By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON — —
Hamilton-Jefferson County Regional Superintendent of Schools Ron Daniels has approved a petition to consolidate three county schools and sent his decision to Illinois Superintendent of Schools Christopher Koch.
The respective school boards of Opdyke-Belle Rive, Ina and Dodds Grade Schools approved a resolution to consolidate following a feasibility study and public hearings on the topic, and presented the petition to Daniels.
Koch has 21 days to render his decision and return it to the regional office of education, Daniels said. If the State Superintendent’s Office approves the petition, the decision must be returned to Jefferson County Clerk Connie Simmons in order for the question to be placed on the April 9, 2013, ballot.
“We’re very close on the time, but I don’t feel the state superintendent will take three weeks to render his decision,” he said.
A public hearing was held Nov. 29 at the Dodds Grade School gymnasium to receive public comment and testimony concerning the petition to consolidate the three schools.
The Committee of 10 established by the boards of education of the three school districts presented their case for the consolidation of the districts.
Daniels said living in one of the communities and serving on local school boards helped him to have an understanding of the issue, as well as learning about the possible benefits to the district through the feasibility study.
“The incentive program the state has now for schools looking to consolidate would be very, very beneficial to the schools here in the short term,” he said. He added that if the schools consolidated, they would be able to pool their resources to offer more programs and equalize the size of the classrooms as well.
“The final decision is by the voters on April 9 if it gets back and is on the ballot,” Daniels said. “It must be passed by the voters of all three districts; if one votes it down, the petition dies.”
He said a new school district would not be formed until July 2014, because the petitioners did not request to have a new board of education election as well, and that would be on a spring 2014 ballot. The new school district would elect seven members from the entire new district, with no restrictions on how many people come from each former territory, Daniels said.
A second ballot question will ask voters if a new structure needs to be built for the potential new district.
“The timeline would depend upon state funding, and Opdyke-Belle Rive already has a referendum approved to get state funding (for a new school building),” Daniels said. “There’s no directions on that. Those decisions are up to the board, to decide whether they should keep having attendance centers or what they should do.”