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What would a corporation do?

Years ago, I worked for a smaller newspaper that competed with a larger one an hour down the road.

To our surprise, the larger paper's corporate owner bought our daily. Our new bosses came in to relay the news. Their speeches sounded good.

But we knew the truth: Layoffs would happen sooner or later.

Naively, I told the pressman his job was safe, thinking we needed someone to run the press.

He was one of the first to go. The press was shut down. Our paper was then printed at our new sister paper.

We grumbled, but got used to it.

That's the way of business. Most of our readers know the Telegraph and Daily Gazette combined their operations more than a decade ago.

I wasn't here then, but I'm sure it rubbed some the wrong way.

Consolidations happen all the time in business. That's because business people see opportunities for greater efficiencies, adding to the bottom line.

Such mergers are rare in government.

That's why Whiteside and Lee counties have 22 townships each. That's why both counties have a grand total of 10 economic development organizations in the two counties – all of which receive at least some government funds.

And that's why the Rock Falls area has both elementary and high school districts.

If corporations controlled the Rock Falls schools, would they have consolidated long ago? Almost certainly.

The Riverdale Elementary district combined with the Rock Falls Elementary district in the summer, and the Nelson and East Coloma districts are preparing a merger. After that is all done, that will leave one high school district and three elementary districts in Rock Falls.

No one is even publicly talking about combining the high school and elementary districts.

If they merged, taxpayers likely would save a lot of money.

Last year, we found that the owner of a $100,000 house in Sterling paid $1,556 in annual property taxes (not including any breaks) for Sterling's consolidated district.

A resident in Rock Falls shelled out about $500 more per year for the same value property.

Why?

Because Rock Falls residents are paying for two separate school administrations.

The state gives authority for higher tax rates in areas with elementary and high school districts.

In support of smaller school districts, one could argue they are more nimble in responding to students' problems, making sure they are academic successes.

The question: Is that actually the case?

Recently, we learned that the tiny Montmorency and Nelson school districts made the federal standard of "adequate yearly progress" – the only Sauk Valley districts to do so.

Elementary schools, though, are more likely than high schools to make the federal grade. Most of the other districts have high schools, reducing their chances to attain district-wide adequate yearly progress.

Is the smallness of Rock Falls' districts producing enough academic success to justify the higher taxes?

A cost-benefit analysis is in order. That's what a corporation would do.

I'm not saying we should turn over our schools to the private sector. But it never hurts to see whether taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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