By Bill Beard
The Committee of 10 voted unanimously at their Wednesday, Sept. 4, meeting to put the decision to consolidate the A-C Central and PORTA school districts before the voters on the March 18, 2014 primary ballot. The committee, composed of five members from each district, has two further steps to complete before the issue comes to a vote. First, the committee must collect signatures from 50 registered voters in each district. Then submit a petition to Jean Anderson, regional school superintendent for Logan, Mason and Menard counties. Anderson and Dr. Christopher Koch, State Superintendent and Brown County High School graduate, must approve the consolidation petition before it can be formally placed on the ballot. A majority of each district’s voters must approve the merger for it to take effect.
Karen Hoffman, Committee of 10 co-chair from Ashland, stated: “The voters deserve the right to be able to vote on this issue. Our children’s education is at stake. Without consolidation we will continue to see more programs fade away.”
Both districts have previously consolidated. PORTA came into existence after the merger of Petersburg, Oakford, Rock Creek, Tallula and Atterberry in 1963. Ashland and Chandlerville merged in 1989. If approved, the new school district would educate approximately 1,470 students (435 A-C and 1,035 PORTA), with campuses in Ashland and Petersburg. The elementary school in Chandlerville would close and the building sold.
Allan Grosboll, Committee of 10 co-chair from Petersburg, assessed the committee’s work: “After four months of study and public hearings, all ten members of the Committee of Ten came to the conclusion that consolidation would benefit the students of both our school districts. Consolidation will produce a million dollars of efficiencies; it will reduce A-C taxes by 25%; and it will expand academic opportunities for every student.”
The unanimous vote to place the union of districts on the March primary ballot concludes the three primary responsibilities of the Committee of 10, according to Illinois statute law. First, the committee determined the tax rate for the consolidated district. PORTA’s rate would be unchanged, while A-C Central’s may decrease by 25%, to $4.12 per $100 of equalized assessed value (EAV). According to 2011 data from the Illinois State Board of Education, PORTA’s tax rate is $4.83 per $100 EAV, and A-C Central residents pay $5.48 per $100 EAV. The PORTA tax base is $146 million and A-C’s is $42 million.
The committee accomplished its second task at their Aug. 26 meeting by deciding to elect the new district’s school board members from seven geographic sub-districts rather than the district at-large. Voters will select one school board member from each sub-district at the same time they vote on the consolidation referendum – Tuesday, March 18, 2014. If approved, the two districts would officially unite on July 1, 2015, the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year.
Judging the importance of the Committee of 10’s work, committee member Laura Richard, from Chandlerville, concluded: “Without consolidation, A-C and PORTA will continue to cut programs. A-C’s high school has reduced vocational education classes for students who want to head into the workforce and offers limited Advanced Placement classes for college-bound students. Extracurricular programs are disappearing and most will not come back. At PORTA, without consolidation, the district may have to curtail programs it has been offering for many years. With consolidation, we can avoid program cuts for all of our students and expand vocational education programs.”
A majority of A-C Central school board members is opposed to consolidation with PORTA, and have refused to meet with the Committee of 10 or comment to the media. The Cass County Star-Gazette in the coming months will objectively present voters with precise information regarding each district, as well as commentary from supporters and opponents of the proposed consolidation.