Regional Superintendent of Schools Monte Newlin conducted a hearing Monday night to hear testimony and receive evidence on the question of the consolidation of Hutsonville Unit 1 and Palestine Unit 3 schools.
The hearing, in the Robinson Community Center, was on a petition, signed by members of the Hutsonville-Palestine Committee of Ten and amended to include the signatures of at least 50 voters in each school district, to place the question of whether or not the two school districts should consolidate on the March 20, 2018 ballot.
After establishing ground rules for the hearing, Newlin heard from several speakers. Tina Callaway, representing the Committee of Ten, began the presentation by calling witnesses to give testimony on various aspects of the petition.
Hutsonville Unit 1 Superintendent Julie Kraemer was called to present a timeline and explain how the petition for consolidation was developed. She began by saying how she, and then-Palestine Superintendent Joe Sornberger, were asked to look at the 2002 feasibility study and begin an internal feasibility study in 2013. A formal study was done by an outside agency with regard to Hutsonville, Palestine and Robinson school districts and presented in November 2014.
In May 2016 a special committee of Palestine and Hutsonville administrators and board members convened. In August 2016 both districts voted to form a Committee of Ten.
Callaway then called individual members of the committee to give testimony on the areas the committee was commissioned to evaluate: buildings and grounds, extracurricular activities, personnel, transportation, curriculum and finance. Palestine committee member Robert York also gave a brief presentation on the main reason for the proposed consolidation - declining enrollment of both school districts.
Before starting the hearing, anyone wanting to give testimony who was not on the Committee of Ten was required to sign in and verify that they were residents of either school district.
Illinois Eastern Community Colleges Trustee and Hutsonville resident John Brooks testified to the declining enrollment in the IECC districts mirroring Hutsonville, Palestine and the state. He endorsed the consolidation as doing whatever is possible to provide more opportunities for students.
Amy Beckes, Palestine, testified that she believes, based on the information she has heard, consolidation is not the best option at this time.
Jim Bush, Palestine, testified that consolidation is a wrong choice. Bush was a member of the 2002 Committee of Ten, and questioned the data of the 2002 feasibility study and how it was applied to the current study. He is also concerned that Palestine will eventually be left with no school if it consolidates.
Joel York, Palestine Unit 3 school-board member, said he believes consolidation is in the best interest of the students, though it is not a perfect solution, and many decisions will have to be be made by a new board of education. Palestine Unit 3 Board of Education President Corie Biggs does not believe consolidation with Hutsonville is the best option, and that Palestine should look at and develop other options.
Biggs based his belief on his analysis of the information presented. First, he said he does not believe consolidation with Hutsonville would last long enough to make it a worthwhile option. He pointed to declining enrollment and the corresponding loss of revenue. He is also concerned about attendance centers and the general uncertainty of decisions that would be made by a future board of education.
Palestine Unit 3 Trustee Donald Wagoner testified in opposition to the consolidation. Wagoner was originally on the Committee of Ten, but resigned after the 5-2 "no" vote by the Palestine board. He said after hearing from members of the community he believes the divisiveness of the issue of consolidation would be detrimental to the community.
Several others signed in to give testimony, but declined.
With no further testimony, Newlin closed the hearing. He now has 14 days to give a ruling and send the question on to the State Superintendent of Schools for further consideration. If approved, it will be placed on the March 20, 2018 ballot.