18 Common Concerns/Questions and responses from the Recent Consolidation Survey
May 16, 2012
1. Consolidation will not stop a tax increase in the future.
Answer: In reality there is no simple answer to this comment. The fact is the Board of Education and I am very aware of the high values of local property and the burden that causes. With this in mind the district has been seeking various options over the past 6 years with neighboring school districts to help alleviate the financial and enrollment constraints that we saw looming in our future. Today, we are realizing the issues related to reduced enrollment, higher Equalized Assessed Valuation and reduced state revenue. As far as guaranteeing no tax increase if a consolidation were successful, I would have to say this current Board and I couldn’t make that statement. With a consolidation a new Board will be formed and in the future it may be a possibility that an increase in local revenue is sought. On the other hand, if we do not consolidate, the Board of Education will be forced to reduce programs and/or ask for a tax rate increase to maintain our current programming.
2. Transportation Costs will increase or travel will be too far for the students.
Answer: This particular question was the most commented in the surveys returned. Additionally, this is the one area of most concern to the Board of Education. If a consolidation vote were successful and new school district would be formed and its approximate size would be 330 square miles. Undoubtedly, transporting children these distances would be daunting. In reality, the transportation of children should change very little for students between Pre-K and 8th grade. The High School students would have the most distance to travel to the current PORTA High School. The general idea at this time is that a K-8 building would exist in Ashland and students who currently attend that facility would continue. PORTA students would continue to attend the buildings they have traditionally attended unless their residence is closer to Ashland.
There will be some issues and combined transportations costs will be similar to those of a newly consolidated district. While this is the one area the Board is most uneasy, we understand there is a solution to be had and in time all issues will be worked out for the best of all concerned.
3. You need to reduce Teacher and Administrator salaries/positions.
Answer: One reason for consolidation is to consolidate costs and eliminate redundancies. Nearly 80% of education fund costs are salary and benefits. The only way to reduce those costs is to reduce programs or staff and administration. If a consolidation is successful, we believe that many certified positions will be reduced and a combination of administration will further reduce costs with fewer principals and one less Superintendent.
4. If Advanced and College Prep courses are cut we will move from the District.
Answer: Precisely the reason the Board of Education has been seeking reorganization opportunities. With declining enrollment and revenues the PORTA District will be forced to eliminate programs like Advanced and College Prep courses, as well others like ART, Music, Industrial Art and Ag. The Board feels that the best option to avoid these reductions is to increase enrollment through consolidation or some form of district reorganization.
5. Increased number of Students per Class.
Answer: In reality, class size should not be negatively affected with a
successful Consolidation. High School Courses will have a higher
number of students in attendance, which is the overall goal of
6. The concept of a countywide district needs to be considered.
Answer: The PORTA, Greenview and Athens School district conducted a reorganization Study, which was completed in June 2010. The study and it findings can be found on the PORTA Website under the Board of Education Tab. Nevertheless, before a countywide district can be created all parties need to be willing and interested. At this point, neither Greenview nor Athens has indicated interest in consolidation.
7. PORTA should make an effort to consolidate with Greenview.
Answer: Again, the PORTA Board of Education has written letters and met with Greenview Board Members to discuss potential mergers. Greenview has not shown an interest in our requests. PORTA has no authority or power to institute consolidation over a district and as such can only ask leadership at Greenview to consider reorganization. PORTA is a willing partner in any consolidation effort and will consider options as them come available. When considering consolidation with Greenview, the Board is aware of the fact that Greenview has less than 70 students in the High school. This is a very small number and in reality will do very little to help PORTA sustain programs over time, whereas, A-C Central’s High School population is more than double that of Greenview. With higher enrollments sustainability of programs over time is more likely.
8. You will want to build a new building.
Answer: At this point there is no scenario that would require the addition of a new facility. In reality, if a consolidation occurs facilities in the combined district will close. A good candidate for closure would be Chandlerville’s school building.
9. Only a temporary fix.
Answer: Like most rural districts in Illinois, PORTA and A-C Central has seen a steady decline in enrollment over the past decade or more. Much of this loss is due to smaller families and families moving to more metropolitan areas to find work. Unfortunately, a school district has very little defense against such actions and in realty the only way to control enrollment is to actively seek out students through consolidation and advertisement. The PORTA Board feels that a consolidation with the A-C Central District gives the opportunity to solve the immediate enrollment problem facing our district, while making the newly formed district a desirable location for families to relocate. As far as determining what a temporary fix is, we believe that a merger between the two districts will make the new district sustainable for a generation. The PORTA District has been consolidated for many generations and the A-C consolidated District has been maintained a generation as well. Given the issues that our districts are facing today, security for the next generation is welcomed and would give all future leadership the opportunity to develop solutions for all students in the newly formed district.
10. If State revenues are unreliable, how can consolidation make finances better?
Answer: Unfortunately, State of Illinois Revenues is unstable and will continue to be so, for both the A-C and PORTA districts. Consolidation will help the financial situation through reductions of redundant positions and reduced need for facilities. If two districts can come together and continue to offer quality programs with fewer costs, a win-win situation is created for the students and taxpayer.
11. Taxes are high enough, cut courses and all sports. Stop catering to the advanced students, they will be fine regardless.
Answer: While, this was a sentiment that wasn’t in the majority, enough respondents did make this comment to place it on the list of concerns. The Board of Education would agree that taxes are high enough, but the primary goal of this district is to prepare students for the workforce. Today’s buzzword is, “College and Career Ready” and much of our ongoing training, time and effort is designed to meet expectations handed down to the district from State and Federal legislators. Cutting courses is counter-productive to any goal of creating college and career ready students. The most important aspect of education is in fact the quality of education and experiences our district can offer students. Strong curricular offerings are a must and while a distant second, all extra and co-curricular programs have a vital role in the development of sound, hardworking individuals.
12. Find a way to resolve our current issues before taking on Consolidation.
Answer: The issues we are currently experiencing cannot be solved simply and in one of those issues, student enrollment, can only be solved through consolidation. Financially, the PORTA District could make significant reductions to programs and temporarily solve its financial problems. Unfortunately, with a reduction in programs will come a mass exodus of families who expect and deserve the programming they currently have at PORTA. With families moving away, enrollment would drop to even lower levels and PORTA will be in a similar situation it finds itself in currently.
13. Does AC have debt the new district would be forced to absorb.
Answer: This is a common question and misconception during consolidation talks. In the case of a successful consolidation, local debt stays with the original school district. For instance, PORTA’s Bond and Interest debt will primarily be paid off approximately in 2017. If PORTA and AC consolidate prior to those dates, the payments for that debt will reside with the PORTA Tax payers until they are paid for in full.
14. If Greenview can keep their school why can’t we?
Answer: There is no doubt that PORTA can keep it’s school, but what level of curricular and extra-curricular offerings can be provided will be the true question. The PORTA Board can cancel all sporting activities and attempt to coop with one of our neighboring districts in hopes that they will provide our students with opportunities that we cannot or will not because of lack of student attendance or finances. We could reduce our course offerings so that only the minimal requirements are met for graduation. We could do all of these things, but at what cost?
15. How will the most qualified teachers be retained in a consolidation?
Answer: Retention of certified staff will be determined by the need for programming, negotiations and Illinois State Law regarding retention of certified staff. The goal for the newly formed district will be to retain staff based on need and reduce staff members in redundant positions or unqualified personnel.
16. I think an outside feasibility study should be completed?
Answer: In most consolidation efforts a feasibility study is conducted and in upcoming meetings with the A-C Central Board we assume the question about conducting such a study will be asked and answered. Getting an outside opinion of the feasibility of consolidation between the two districts is wise because, a fresh set of eyes can evaluate the positives and negatives of a consolidation effort. The impartial feasibility team could see potential downfalls of a consolidation and may recommend against the solution. Or, the team may see that some other form of reorganization may work better for all concerned and recommend a variation of consolidation. Nevertheless, having an impartial group consider all options is a good step toward reassuring our taxpayers that our districts are doing what is best for students.
17. Not getting this consolidation completed quick enough and PORTA will be forced to reduce programs.
Answer: Unfortunately, this is a real concern as well. Our district knows that we need to move ahead with consolidation talks to expedite a potential merger. With a prolonged merger discussion the PORTA District will inch closer and closer to major program cuts or need to ask our taxpayers to increase taxes. Neither of these options is favorable and so we hope to move ahead with these discussions very soon.
18. Concerned that the consolidation will not pass because people misplaced loyalty to the school name, leading to continued erosion of educational opportunities.
Answer: Again, this is one of those issues that tend to kill consolidation attempts. We believe that pride in our schools, its name and mascot are derived from a long line of successful experiences offered at PORTA. When those opportunities are not offered and education becomes substandard how will the pride in our name and mascot prevail. Regardless of our Mascot or district name, our primary goal is to educate and prepare students for their futures. If that means they graduate under some other name than PORTA, then so be it. At least those students will be graduating from our communities’ school rather than moving to a different community and graduating from a school that offers what families require from our schools. A strong community relies heavily on a strong school system. If we cannot offer a quality education to our families our communities will decline.