BEST Committee receives update on school consolidation

Dave Hopkins

O’FALLON – The effort to commission a study to determine the viability of school district consolidation in O’Fallon and Shiloh is moving forward, but at a slower pace than hoped.

Dave Hopkins representing the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce gave an update on the struggle to find a qualified group willing to take on studying the impact consolidating as many as four school districts on the area.

“We started this process a year ago. I really expected to have this study in my hands by this time, but we can’t do it ourselves and we need professional help,” said Hopkins.

According to Hopkins, the Chamber has received some interest from a group based at St. Louis University who would perform the study as part of a research project.

“They have four individuals in their group. One would focus on finances and facilities. The other on curriculum and student success. The third on personnel. And the fourth on collaborative activities,” he explained.

According to Hopkins, the cost will be approximately $20,000 to $25,000 and the time frame would be approximately six months. The city of O’Fallon has pledged $7,500 and the village of Shiloh has committed $5,000. Hopkins said his committee will be soliciting among chamber members to make up the difference.

“We couldn’t begin asking for funds without having an idea what it would cost. Now that we have that we can start our fundraising efforts,” he said.

Hopkins said he also has learned that a consultant who had previously turned the Chamber group down because he was already involved in a study is now available and possibly interested in O’Fallon. He said that gives the Chamber another option to consider.

Hopkins reported that two prior studies are available on the BEST website and that the two studies came to very different conclusions. He said the goal of the committee of 13 that has been created is to determine the validity of the idea of consolidation and if it is good for the area.

“The O’Fallon Shiloh Chamber of Commerce has begun a school consolidation study. Its not an effort because we’re not leading the charge for consolidation. What our mission is, is to uncover what the benefits and what the weaknesses are of consolidation. We need to find out what the facts are and then disseminate that to the public at large,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the Chamber has stepped in to lend an impartial voice to the discussion as it was perceived by the community that if the schools were to conduct a study they would be able to purchase the preferred outcome.

The group of 13 met for the first time nearly a year ago and began their work by contacting the Illinois State Board of Education for guidance. From there, the group reached out to each school board president and superintendents for individual interviews.

Hopkins said the committee contacted all of the consultants recommended by the Illinois State Board of Education and a few other recommendations from other educators in the area but received no responses.

“Its a very specialized effort. Illinois school finance is a very specialized area and there aren’t a whole lot of candidates who are able to do the study.”

Hopkins said the Chamber has asked consultants to look at the feasibility of five different options. The first is the combination of all four school districts, while the second is the combination of just the grade school districts. The third would combine the two O’Fallon grade schools, 90 and 104. The fourth option combines the two largest districts, 90 and 203. And the fifth option includes the three O’Fallon districts, 90, 104, and 203.

Hopkins said the Chamber committee plans to meet with the SLU representatives on Monday, October 15.

Hopkins said the researchers from SLU were impressed by the collaboration already taking place between the four O’Fallon-Shiloh school districts.

“When we first contacted the group, they heavily promoted collaboration amongst the four districts, not knowing about the BEST committee. Once they found out about BEST they were very impressed,” he said.

The BEST Committee is made up of school board members and administrators from Shiloh District 85, O’Fallon District 90, Central District 104, and OTHS District 203. Formed in 2006, the Building Educational Success Together (BEST) committee is designed to facilitate communication between District 203 and its partner school districts to promote educational success of the students in each district. Through the years the districts have worked together in a collaborative way to save money, such as through common contracts for food services and transportation.

On Wednesday, October 3, the BEST Committee held their annual retreat where all members of all four school boards were invited, with most attending. Hopkins gave his presentation as part of the overall agenda of the evening which included growth updates from representatives of the City of O’Fallon and Village of Shiloh, an update on the effort to hire a communications director to serve all hour school districts, and the creation of a Metro East Board Academy that would offer continuing education opportunities for school board members.