Former Cary Grade School Board President Scott Coffey shares his knowledge of school law:
As Cal indicated years ago, School Code requires certified employees to be migrated to the higher-paying contract of the consolidating districts, thus guaranteeing much higher labor expenses after a consolidation.
This proposed legislation requires a Unit district to be created from the consolidation process, and given that high school districts generally have higher teacher salaries, most elementary teachers will receive increases to their compensation as they are migrated to a high school contract.
As an example, looking at the variances in the Salary Tables for next year between D-155 vs D-26 shows a D-155 BS-10 value of $70,867 vs D-26 value of $47,044 which indicates a variance of $23,823 (or 50.6% higher).
Given that the overwhelming majority of D-26 teachers are younger and still on the Table, this process would spike compensation by at least by $3.5 million.
The same effect would be seen, to varying degrees, with the other K-8 districts (D-3, D-46, D-47) that would be consolidated under this scenario.
Further exacerbating the finances would be the increase to TRS pension costs due to the inflated salaries, increased benefits’ costs due to D-155’s contract, increased costs as the salaries/benefits structure for all the support personnel are standardized in a consolidated district, and the uncertainty of how a consolidation affects the calculation of State aid under the relatively new Evidence-Based Funding formula.
While there would be administrative savings (i.e. Superintendents, Finance, HR, IT, Special Ed, Curriculum, etc.), those savings would be dwarfed by the incremental salaries/benefits and any additional costs to standardize instruction across the new district (textbooks, computers, etc.).
At this point, I’m not even sure if D-155’s contract language restricting student contact-time with teachers would allow K-8 teachers to teach their class for the whole day.
The easiest way to think about the rules for school consolidation (105 ILCS 5/Art. 11E) is that instead of adopting “Best Practices”, school code forces the adoption of “Worst Practices”.
The School District Efficiency Commission could put a consolidation referendum on the ballot which would require a statement of the maximum proposed tax rate.
A consolidation referendum requires the approval of every community affected by the consolidation.
Why that is important is that elementary districts in the same area can have radically different tax rates and requiring every community’s approval prevents a giant tax increase from getting crammed down on a community that has been more efficient and operates with a lower tax rate today.
This can be seen in the Operating Tax Rates of the four K-8 districts that feed into D-155:
Cary D-26 $3.443 (per $100 of taxable EAV)
C.L. D-47 3.947
Prairie G. D-46 4.559
FRG D-3 5.080
There is a 47.5% spread from lowest to highest.
So, the proposed tax rate in a consolidation referendum would have to incorporate Cary’s low rate, otherwise, Cary residents would never vote to approve a ballot measure that results in a tax increase.
The main beneficiaries would be residents in FRG, Prairie Grove, and Crystal Lake.
Taking them down to Cary’s rate would generate tax savings of $13.8 million for those three communities which is probably incentive enough for them to vote for it, but is neutral for Cary voters.
That also means that the new Unit district would have $13.8 million less in operating revenues while simultaneously absorbing millions in net incremental expenses as outlined above.
This new School District Efficiency Commission will only work if the districts affected have similar tax rates and similar labor contracts.