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Cerro Gordo, Bement mull possible district merger options

(MCT) CERRO GORDO — The Bement and Cerro Gordo school boards met jointly on Wednesday in Cerro Gordo to begin discussions on possibly joining the two districts in the future.

The districts have collaborated for several years already, said Cerro Gordo Superintendent Brett Robinson, sharing teachers and combining sports teams to allow both districts to offer choices to students that neither could offer alone.

“As the state struggles, schools struggle to keep nonmandated courses,” Robinson said. “It’s harder and harder to maintain or increase course offerings.”

Bement has lost about $500,000 in general state aid, said Superintendent Dan Brue, due to increasing land values and the fact that the state has not paid districts their full measure of state aid in recent years. When land values increase, state aid decreases based on the per-student foundation funding level, which is $6,119 this year.

In 2012-13, districts received only 95 percent of their appropriations. This year, it was 89 percent. And Robinson said projections are that schools will receive only 82 percent in the 2013-14 school year.

Adding to potential costs, the state is also discussing making local districts foot the bill for their portion of teacher pensions, which the state has handled for all districts outside of Chicago.

Bement’s enrollment has fallen, while Cerro Gordo’s has remained relatively stable. The two superintendents have met to discuss options and invited Michelle Heninger, principal consultant on school business services, to the joint meeting to explain the options available. Those range from consolidation, which is creating a new district, to annexation, in which one district would absorb the other, to deactivation of one school. Those are the most common options, she said.

“The options available are all voluntary,” she said. “The state is not telling districts they have to do this.”

There are financial incentives available to districts that consolidate or annex, and in spite of the state’s financial woes, those incentives have been paid 100 percent, she added.

No decisions were made at the meeting. Robinson said from here the two boards will meet separately to consider the options and whether to commission a feasibility study, which Heninger said the Illinois State Board of Education would likely help fund.


©2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

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