Small school districts with big budgets are sucking up taxes across Illinois and should be consolidated, Republican candidate for governor and state Rep. Jeanne Ives said Wednesday.
"First thing, every school district should be a unit district," Ives of Wheaton told the Daily Herald editorial board. "No more high school districts, no more elementary districts."
Ives is challenging Gov. Bruce Rauner in the March 20 Republican primary election, while seven Democrats are vying for their party's nomination.
Consolidating school districts would cut expenses and reduce property taxes as well as benefit students, Ives said.
"Florida's got one school district per county," she said. "In Illinois, we've got 852 (districts in 102 counties). This is where you get your savings."
For example, Ives suggested, Glenbard High School District 87 serving northeast DuPage County communities could absorb elementary school districts that feed into it.
She also cited the example of Winfield School District 34, which has two schools, saying it could merge with the much-larger Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, which also serves part of Winfield.
"(Those two schools) could easily be absorbed in District 200," Ives said. "Get rid of that school district. Done."
Such reforms, she stressed, wouldn't necessarily mean losing local control or traditions.
"It doesn't mean give up the school's mascot. It means the administration and all that goes up to the (larger) school district level."
However, Ives also said some large school districts are unwieldy.
"Elgin (Area Unit District 46) and Chicago (Public Schools) are too big, actually. They need to be downsized," she said.
"At the same time, you cannot have 'zombie schools.' You can't have 140 kids in a high school and think that you're going to have a good result and have the resources to provide for them."
Earlier in 2017, Rauner signed legislation to make consolidating units of government easier.
Over the years, districts in St. Charles and Geneva, Wood Dale and Bensenville, and Mount Prospect and Elk Grove Township, to name a few, have faced possible mergers.
District 34 Superintendent Matt Rich said the district had looked at consolidation previously and conducted feasibility studies. He said the district already cooperates with West Chicago High School District 94, Benjamin Elementary District 25 and West Chicago Elementary District 33
"It's not a new idea," Rich said. "Every study has remarked on how well we've used our resources together and that it would be disadvantageous to do this. You would need to ask High School District 94 what it would do if it no longer had us as part of their tax base."