Mt. Vernon Register-News

January 29, 2013

Meeting held about school consolidation

By RICK HAYES
rick.hayes@register-news.com

MT. VERNON — — About 75 people attended a meeting at Dodds Grade School on Monday night to receive information on the proposed consolidation of three Jefferson County grade school districts — Dodds, Ina, and Opdyke-Belle Rive.

Rodney Martin, a member of the Committee of Ten that will make recommendations concerning the consolidation issue, facilitated the meeting and gave a PowerPoint presentation on the pros and cons of the proposed new district.

Martin said the Committee of Ten has set a common set of goals, including, “controlling our emotions whether euphoric or anger, set aside our alumni status and work to make an intelligent, common sense decision.”

Voters in the three districts will vote for or against a referendum in November to consolidate the three districts into one. The referendum must pass in all three districts by a majority vote in order for the consolidation process to move forward.

Seven members of the Committee of Ten were in attendance at Monday’s meeting, including Martin, Jo Ann Joy, Andy Droll, Denise Strothmann, Jim Hawkins, Lisa Irvin and Jeremy Hamson. The remaining committee members are Dave Scrivner, Chad Harper and Cindy Leeck.

“No one of the committee has experienced consolidation so it’s a learning process,” Martin told the audience. “We want to act proactively on reorganization rather than reactively to the state of Illinois. We also want to set aside our personal agendas and have asked you to do the same.”

The state is now providing 95 percent funding for the three districts, but Martin said projects have indicated state funding will decrease to 89 percent for the next school year and to 80 percent by 2014.

“They’re going to slow death us if we don’t do something,” said Irvin. “Pooling our resources and receiving incentive money from the state will help the districts survive.”

Currently the state is offering incentive money — $2 million over a four-year period — to schools willing to consolidate. According to information provided, these incentives will not likely be available after 2016.

Martin explained the new district has a projected enrollment of 425 pupils. The Opdyke-Belle Rive district has already passed a referendum for new school construction with the state promising 75 percent funding from the Capital Development Board. OBR has projected the new building could hold approximately 310 pupils, according to Interim Superintendent John Ashby.

OBR officials indicated at Monday’s meeting that construction probably would not begin until after the districtwide referendum in April, and Ashby noted after the meeting, “The state will not entitle us to any monies prior to the consolidation vote.”

Initial plans are for a new school to be constructed on Central Log Cabin Road. Committee members have initially called the new school, Southeast Elementary. Based on the outcome of the referendum vote, the district may join forces with the OBR district for a larger building to accommodate the projected enrollment.

Committee members noted that by pooling resources together it would create a larger base for the General State Aid formula, and will likely reduce tax rates for two of the districts. OBR currently has a tax rate of $3.09, Dodds $3.20, and Ina $3.30. The Committee has recommended a tax rate of $3.10. The new tax rate is at the discretion of the newly formed Board of Education.

If the voters approve the referendum, a new school board would be elected in April 2014, and the new district would begin operations on July 1, 2014.