Mt. Vernon Register-News

July 26, 2013

Woodlawn schools look at consolidation

By TRAVIS MORSE travis.morse@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — WOODLAWN – Woodlawn school officials are investigating the possibility of consolidating their two districts to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

The districts in question are Woodlawn Community High School District 205 and Woodlawn Community Consolidated School District 4. Each has its own school board, budget, service contracts, and agreements.

By combining these entities into one unit district, it could result in myriad benefits, said David Larkin, superintendent of the Woodlawn districts. If a consolidation were successful, a single school board would oversee the district, eliminating any “duplication of effort,” Larkin said.

“Hopefully, it would improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve education by having continuity through all the grade levels,” Larkin said. “For instance, each district now has their own contracts. Each district has a separate budget and has to complete state reports separately. … We would hope to find some efficiencies and cost savings in those areas.”

Before a consolidation could occur, though, a number of requirements would have to be met.

The first hurdle would be to apply for a waiver from state legislation that requires consolidated school districts to have similar boundaries. Currently, the two Woodlawn districts have their own separate boundaries, and school officials want to keep it that way.

Both school boards would have to approve the waiver application. Then the document would have to be approved by the Illinois Legislature and be signed by the governor.

If the waiver is granted, the regional superintendent of schools would conduct a public hearing process. After that, the consolidation would go on the ballot for voters in both districts.

“I don't expect it to be on the ballot at least until November 2014,” Larkin said. “The two boards have been exploring our options, what the legal requirements are.”

Lack of funding is the main reason Woodlawn officials are looking at consolidation, said Scott Owens, president of the Woodlawn Community Consolidated School District 4 Board of Education. The districts already share bus service and certain staff, so consolidation “seems to make sense,” he said.

“The bottom line is, our funding is cut every year. We get less and less,” Owens said. “If we can consolidate while maintaining our boundaries, then it very well may be favorable.”

Tom Mears, president of the Woodlawn Community High School District 205 Board of Education, stressed that the consolidation is still in its early stages and nothing has yet been formally approved.

“We're in the preliminary stages,” Mears said. “It's something we want to look at for the taxpayers of this district.”