More than a year ago, state lawmakers approved a bill to cut the number of regional school superintendents in Illinois from 44 to 35.
It was passed after Gov. Pat Quinn tried to eliminate state funding for all of the elected positions and have them paid from local sources.
Since then, however, no agreement has been reached on how to reduce the number of regional superintendents to 35. So now it will be in the hands of the State Board of Education, which will have to act by late November, because of a bill passed last week.
“County boards were given until June 30 to come up with a map to get them to 35. They did not succeed,” said state Rep. Frank Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat and the House sponsor of Senate Bill 1689. “Our fallback was if they could not agree, that power would default to the state board.”
The default to the state board is on a quicker timetable than originally anticipated, though. The bill approved last week requires the state board to make a decision no later than Nov. 23. Originally, it was given until June 1, 2014, to reach a decision. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 22.
The bill also changes the filing date for candidates for regional school superintendent. Petitions will be filed between Dec. 16 and Dec. 23. The change will allow candidates time to review the regional school configuration that is approved by the State Board of Education.
Quinn cut state funding for the regional superintendents and their assistants in 2011, insisting they are local officials and should be paid with local money. They went months without pay until lawmakers approved a plan to pay their salaries with personal property replacement tax money.
A state commission formed in the wake of that recommended reducing the number of regional superintendents to 35, and lawmakers enacted the recommendation. Regional school districts would now need at least 61,000 residents instead of 43,000.
In several cases, county boards approved resolutions to combine with each other into new regional school districts. Sangamon County, for instance, agreed to add Menard County school districts to its regional operation.
But in some cases, small regions opted to merge with other small regions. In the end, Mautino said, there was agreement to get down to only 38 districts.
The regional superintendents’ association has offered a proposed redistricting map to the State Board of Education that hits the target of 35 districts.
“My intent would be to follow the map by the [regional superintendents],” Mautino said.
But in some cases, that would mean breaking the agreements previously reached by county boards on forming new regional districts. State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, voted for the bill, but said he thinks those previous agreements should be honored.
“County boards are the elected officials representing the residents of the county,” Moffitt said. “I made it clear I want the county boards’ resolutions honored.”
Moffitt said a number of factors are involved, including the size of the new district and “putting schools together that have a natural association.”
If the number of districts can’t be cut to 35 while also honoring the existing resolutions, the county boards should be brought into the picture, Moffitt said.
“I think if they are close, but can’t make it [to 35], it would be good to call those county boards in,” Moffitt said. “Let them have more input.”