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UPDATED: Community Sounds Off On School District Consolidation: Town Hall Live Blog

We'll be live blogging all night from the District 146 Town Hall on Springfield efforts to consolidate all suburban Cook County school districts into one.

9:03 p.m.

Meeting has wrapped, attendees are milling about and District 146 Board President Dean Casper just finished telling people what the next steps should be.

"Call your legislators, e-mail them, fax them, Facebook them," he said, telling attendees specifically to target the Education Committee members and to do it before they meet on Tuesday, March 15 to discuss Senate Bill 2134.

He also said to contact Gov. Pat Quinn's office.

"The governor is the main force behind these bills. The governor wants the money," Casper said.

He also said to join the Facebook group Illinoisans: Say NO to House Bill 1886.

8:58 p.m.

Comments are wrapping up for the night.

"I came here tonight to listen to this whole story about what they want to do with consolidation," said one man. "I can tell you I brought my children, my family to this area because of the education."

"I can tell you that education is the foundation of the community ... If you don't have good education, no one is going to live there and no one is going to shop in those businesses," he said.

"We're not underwater yet, but we're heading there. But there's still time to fix it."

A woman said she wants to know what the plan is, where the attendees and people opposed to consolidation go from here.

"I don't want to go back to my husband and say 'It was a great meeting. We're definitely against it,'" she said.

8:52 p.m.

Superintendent Michael Byrne said conversations he's had with Springfield said that, although , the issue is very alive.

"One thing to be sure that is not dead is the will of the governor and the will of the state superintendent to make consolidation happen," Byrne said.

Byrne said the state's goal in seeking consolidation is the same system across the board.

"The same is not better. The same is a watered-down education for all students," he said.

8:48 p.m.

Applause and laughter broke out when a woman asked about the comparatively small amount of money the state puts into District 146 compared to other districts.

"My question is how are they saving any money when they're not putting any money in to begin with?" she asked.

In the 2008-2009 school year, only 2.2 percent (about $750,000) of the district's $34.5 million budget came from general state aid, according to the district's Illinois State Board of Education State Report Card.

About 6.8 percent ($2.3 million) came from other state funding.

8:44 p.m.

A man who said he's part of a group called Southland Advocates and Voices for Education echoed the common theme at the night's event that decisions on consolidation should be local.

"I cannot believe any south suburban legislator would support this," he said.

8:38 p.m.

District 146 Superintendent Marion Hoyda said the plan floated by Senate Bill 2134 and other consolidation measures of having commissions or boards determine consolidation will set a one-size-fits-all approach.

"Southern Illinois, the metro area around Chicago, we all have different needs," Hoyda said.

8:31 p.m.

Bremen High School District 228 Secretary Dave Mensing is saying a consolidated board would be too big to hear local concerns.

"If we simply turn over our schools to a Cook County board, our parents, our students, our administrators, our taxpayers, they will not be heard. They will essentially be silenced," he said.

8:29 p.m.

In the last post, local tea party leader Jim Fuentes said there are superintendents who make more than $400,000.

If so, they're not in Illinois. According to the Illinois Teacher Service Record administrative staff only report, the highest-paid superintendent is former (but current as of the time of the report) Yorkville Superintendent Thomas Engler, who makes $350,000 a year.

Here are Illinois State Board of Education teacher salary studies going back to 2002.

8:19 p.m.

is speaking to the crowd.

"We're today because the state of Illinois has some fiscal responsibility problems," Fuentes said.

"Your community, our community is an anomaly," he said.

He is talking about how some superintendents make more than $400,000, which is more than the president of the United States.

8:14 p.m.

A woman who said she traveled 90 miles to get to the meeting just spoke to the crowd, saying she was worried about smaller, downstate school districts "being made a sacrificial lamb."

"I'm one of the downstate schools that the mayor was talking about," the woman said, referring to comments made by Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki earlier in this blog.

Her district has 65 families and 105 students, she said.

"We are important. We do a wonderful job," she said.

8:10 p.m.

Deanna Sullivan of the Illinois Association of School Boards, while talking about how the current recommendations are just to create boards to talk about consolidation, not to mandate it.

"This will be fluid until something is really solidified in about May," Sullivan said.

Sullivan just fielded a question from the audience about why the vote on consolidation should happen in Springfield rather than among local teachers, administrators and other local stakeholders.

"Why can't they vote on the fact of what school districts get consolidated?" the man asked.

Sullivan said this comes to the issue of legislators trying to figure what's the problem that needs to be fixed.

8:03 p.m.

Deanna Sullivan of the Illinois Association of School Boards is talking. She said this week is the committee deadline for both the House and Senate.

She said Senate Bill 2134 won't be approved this week, although there must be a vote.

"After this week, all the bills that haven't been acted on during the session essentially die," she said.

"It's a very confusing time right now. I think legislators, policy makers are trying to discuss 'What are we trying to fix?'" she said.

Sullivan echoed the theme said earlier by both District 146 Board President Dean Casper and Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki that school district consolidation is needed, just not here and not without local input.

Casper earlier said the state is looking at consolidation as a fix for budget woes and might not let that local input happen.

"The governor is hell-bent on consolidation," Casper said.

7:56 p.m.

A woman is asking the crowd if anyone is interested in heading down to Springfield tomorrow for the Senate Education Committee vote on Senate Bill 2134. We talked about that earlier in the blog, but I cut and pasted the section and put it in italics just below.

(W)hen Sen. Sue Garrett (D-Highwood) amended the bill on Monday, it set up a series of "Education Service Centers" to review, among other things, what and how district should be consolidated.

The revised bill will next be considered by the Education Committee, of which Garrett is a member.

District 146 Board President Dean Casper said he believes the service centers are a way for legislators to wash their hands of consolidation.

"They don't want to have to come home and face all the people who are going to be in this room," Casper said.

7:52 p.m.

One of Casper's points is that District 146 takes a small amount of state money compared to other districts.

In the 2008-2009 school year, only 2.2 percent (about $750,000) of the district's $34.5 million budget came from general state aid, according to the district's Illinois State Board of Education State Report Card.

About 6.8 percent ($2.3 million) came from other state funding.

7:47 p.m.

"We're not broke, so don't fix us. Please don't try to fix us," District 146 Board President Dean Casper said.

"This is not the state's money. This is your money. This is your property tax money that you pay to your district," Casper said.

The state, however, is broke.

A recent report said the state's $15 billion deficit will rise to $22 million, Casper said. Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed interest in consolidating school districts to save on administrative costs, estimating $100 million could be saved.

Casper said there are districts that probably should be consolidated, "but it should be a choice."

"It should come from people who are the front lines of education ... they should be teachers in the field, school board members, parents," he said.

7:41 p.m.

"What does this mean for your school board district? It means a loss of local control," Casper said.

7:39 p.m.

District 146 Board President Dean Casper is showing the audience a synopsis of House Bill 1886.

The crowd laughs when Casper said "a Cook County school board."

7:33 p.m.

District 146 Board President Dean Casper said the night came from an article he read about House Bill 1886 two weeks ago.

"I read the bill and I really didn't believe what I was reading," Casper said.

He showed the article to the "PTA moms," who then went online.

"By the end of the week, there were 1,200 people who joined the Facebook group (they) started," Casper said.

He's now showing a video of 146 families, teachers and staff.

7:27 p.m.

Mayor Ed Zabrocki called a one-size-fits-all approach for school districts a "recipe for disaster."

"The concept (House Bill 1886 sponsor) Bobby Rita put out was probably not a bad one but the way it was done was absolutely wrong," Zabrocki, father of two 146 grads, said.

"I cannot agree with him in putting together a bill that takes all of Cook County and puts it together in one system," Zabrocki said.

"There is some rhyme or reason to consolidation," he said. "You have some school districts and all you have is one school (with) a principal and a superintendent. Why?"

While he is an advocate of eliminating "extraneous" school districts, Zabrocki, who worked for decades at Brother Rice high school, said this is not the way to do it.

"What you do is you contact your local representatives," he said.

7:17 p.m.

"For your voices to be heard, for your voices to matter, you have to raise your voices," Superintendent Marion Hoyda said.

7:16 p.m.

We've just said the pledge and I had a few moments to talk with Deanna Sullivan of the Illinois Association of School Boards.

“We support consolidation but we’re opposed to mandated consolidation efforts," Sullivan said. "We believe the public should have an opportunity to weigh in on their school district. So far there’s been some confusion about what problems this is trying to fix.”

Superintendent Marion Hoyda is talking to the crowd about the difficulty of dealing with state legislation.

"What we know about Springfield is that bills fall forward and they move backwards. It's a moving target," Hoyda said.

7:09 p.m.

Spotted so far: Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki, Kirby 140 Board President Chuck Augustyniak, Dennis O'Sullivan from the D230 board, various 146 board members and officials (including future Superintendent ) and a lot of concerned residents.

6:50 p.m.

The crowd is filing in and filling up the seats. As they enter, attendees are asked if they want to sign a petition saying they do not support House Bill 1886 "or any bill that proposes sweeping, large scale, school district consolidation in Illinois." Signatures are plenty.

6:27 p.m.

Welcome to the live blog from the District 146-sponsored town hall on Springfield's efforts to consolidate school districts in a money-saving effort.

The town hall itself won't start until 7 p.m., but Patch is already setting up in the gymnasium. We'll be posting photos, videos and live coverage of the event all night.

Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed interest in consolidating school districts to save on administrative costs.

The first major bill this year to propose a specific plan was House Bill 1886, which wanted to make all school districts county-wide with the exception of Chicago Public Schools. This would have meant all suburban Cook County districts would have become one mega-district with a 15-member school board.

This is the bill that made District 146 perk up its ears, forming the Facebook group Illinoisans: Say NO to House Bill 1886 which is nearing 1,200 members. It later added a YouTube channel, 146online.

Although House Bill 1886 , the district is still concerned about other district consolidation measures being floated, namely House Bill 1216, Senate Bill 1324 and most recently Senate Bill 2134.

The last bill was what's known as a "shell bill," basically a bill that does nothing but hold a place in line until legislators want to change it to say whatever they want.

So when it first was proposed in February, Senate Bill 2134 just said it "Makes a technical change in a Section concerning the application of the Article and definitions."

But when Sen. Sue Garrett (D-Highwood) amended the bill on Monday, it set up a series of "Education Service Centers" to review, among other things, what and how district should be consolidated.

The revised bill will next be considered by the Education Committee, of which Garrett is a member.

District 146 Board President Dean Casper said he believes the service centers are a way for legislators to wash their hands of consolidation.

"They don't want to have to come home and face all the people who are going to be in this room," Casper said.

Keep checking back for updates through the night.

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