3/2/2018 9:15:00 AM Third consolidation town-hall more 'conversational'
More than 100 citizens attended the third town hall meeting presented by the Hutsonville-Palestine Committee of Ten in the Palestine Grade School gym Tuesday night. Committee members, board of education trustees and administrators fielded questions and provided information on the proposed consolidation of the two school districts coming up for a vote on March 20. (Tom Compton photo)
The third in a series of town-hall meetings sponsored by the Hutsonville-Palestine Committee of Ten was more relaxed and conversational Tuesday night, after Monday night's frustration-filled and emotionally-charged questioning.
The biggest change came from Palestine Board President Corie Biggs. After consulting with official sources on the issue of consolidation, Biggs learned that he could, as an individual, give his opinion on the situation. He is still prohibited from actively campaigning as a board member, but can give his opinion as an individual and made that distinction during Tuesday night's meeting.
Biggs said he is concerned about declining enrollment. He also explained his reservation to consolidation.
Biggs said, as an individual, he does not believe that consolidation is a long-term solution. He does not want to see the Palestine students have to move in the short term and make a second move for the long term.
Using the same assumption of the loss of 100 students over a 10-year period put forth by the Committee of Ten for enrollment loss, Biggs explained how General State Aid per student would also be lost.
"Assuming $6,000 General State Aid per student and the loss of 100 students per the COT projection, that would be a loss of $600,000 over 10 years," Biggs said.
Biggs also calculated that cuts to administration and closing the old high school building would only save around $177,000. That would not offset the loss of revenue.
Again speaking as an individual, Biggs said he believes the best long-term option would be to form a cooperative high school where Palestine maintains a K-12 district, keeps an existing board and creates a second board to oversee the cooperative high school.
A full description of a cooperative high school is available at the Illinois State Board of Education website as well as the Palestine and Hutsonville school websites.
A third option that has been discussed is deactivation of the high school. Biggs said it is not as good an option as it is limited to two-year agreements.
Several questions were submitted from the audience of more than 100. Some were asked in person and others written on note cards and read by moderators. Many of the question were repeats of ones that have been asked and answered at other meetings, regarding finances, teachers, class options, attendance centers and the condition of both the Palestine and Hutsonville high schools.
There is no doubt the PHS building needs attention and repair. When asked how much they are willing - or can afford - to spend on repairs at this time, Palestine Interim Superintendent Chris Long said he is conservative, and would say around $120,000. Biggs said he is looking at budgeting around $200,000.
Biggs admitted in all of the options presented it is unlikely the old building would remain in use. It was also noted that changes to the teacher pension system could cost the district $134,000 extra a year.
Some audience members and voters were still concerned there are not definitive or "set in stone" guarantees from the Committee of Ten on financial projections or that a new school board would honor all of their recommendations.
As for the committee, they recognize the limited information, but also have "faith" and believe in the democratic process to make things work out fairly.
A group of Palestine High School students did attend the meeting and extolled the value of being in a small school system. The also shared how the friction created over consolidation has had a negative emotional effect on them.
One word that has greatly offended some Palestine teachers and administrators is the word "stuck."
"'Stuck' bothers me," said teacher Destany Jenkins. "As a teacher we will make the best... We love our students and will do what is best for the kids. Something is going to happen, but we are not stuck."
Over the last three meetings a lot of information has been presented. Voters will have to decide what is most important to them with regard to their children's education and community. Committee of Ten, board of education and school administrators will continue to provide information to anyone who asks as voter prepare to go to the polls March 20.