Anyone thinking that consolidating Districts 90, 97 and OPRF will result in a cost-benefit boom should think again.

From 1983 to 2009, the number of school districts in Illinois has fallen from 1,008 to 870, a reduction of 13 percent, due to school districts consolidating, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Education. Meanwhile, Oak Park and River Forest has maintained its three separate districts – Oak Park and River Forest High School (single-school District 200), Oak Park elementary school District 97, and River Forest elementary District 90.

Superintendents Steven Isoye, Albert Roberts and Thomas Hagerman broached the subject of a consolidated OP/RF school district at their roundtable discussion last Thursday. The general consensus: consolidating their three districts would not be ideal. They noted that those supporting such a thing usually site cost savings as a main reason for doing it – fewer administrators, fewer salaries, for instance. But it’s not that simple, the superintendents warned.

“Let’s dissect that a little bit,” said Dist. 90’s Hagerman, who noted having gone through a consolidation at a previous district on the West Coast. “The enrollment is the enrollment, and our buildings are our buildings. We don’t have huge capacity within our buildings, so the idea that you’re going to consolidate two elementary schools into one and make it into a giant mega-elementary school – that’s just not feasible here.

“So you take out the building cost savings. We’re not going to cut down on teachers, and I think an easy target is administrative salaries. But if you put our three budgets together, we’re talking about a $100 million budget,” Hagerman said. “Losing a superintendent or a curriculum director is not going to have any meaningful impact on a $100 million budget.”

Hagerman added that the costs associated with consolidating could be “astounding,” and unanticipated in the initial planning stages. The superintendents instead stressed the need to better save money through sharing services. All three districts, for instance, have dealt with having to cut or streamline crossing guards. Hagerman said that could be one area where all three districts could look to save money in the future by sharing the service.

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