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August 23, 2011

Simon to lead Classrooms First Commission
Team to study ways to cut bureaucracy, improve student opportunities

CHICAGO – Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will lead a state commission charged with cutting school district administration costs and redirecting those tax dollars to students and classrooms, thanks to legislation signed today by Governor Quinn.

Simon’s Classrooms First Commission will study how districts can improve educational opportunities, reduce duplicative spending, and lower the tax burden through shared services, consolidation or other realignment options. HB 1216 calls for recommendations to be delivered to the Governor and General Assembly by July 1, 2012.

Illinois has almost 870 school districts, the third highest number in the country after California and Texas, and 220 districts operate a single school. More than 240 districts have spent consecutive years on the state’s academic improvement list.

“We want to do what’s best for students and produce administrative cost savings for the state,” said Simon, who serves as the state’s point person on education reform. “The best way to accomplish that is through collaboration and working together to find solutions that fit individual community needs and identities.”

Simon’s Classrooms First Commission is a 20-member team with participation from various stakeholder groups that represent teachers, school boards, principals, superintendents, parents and urban, suburban and rural areas. Community input will be a cornerstone of the commission, with public comments solicited at hearings across the state and online, Simon said.

To coordinate the commission’s research and report, Simon has tapped Dr. Lynne Haeffele, a research associate from the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University. Haeffele is a former award-winning science teacher at Bloomington High School, taught teacher preparation courses at ISU, served as a deputy chief for three state education superintendents and helped design the state’s learning standards.

“Research tells us that there are many paths to improving efficiency and effectiveness in our schools,” Haeffele said. “The commission will undertake a thoughtful process of fact-finding, deliberation, and collaboration, developing creative and practical options to improve classroom learning opportunities for our students.”

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) sponsored HB 1216, and said the commission will build on the collaborative education reform efforts that marked Springfield’s last session.

“We must continuously explore ways to improve academic performance and save taxpayer dollars,” Chapa LaVia said. “This team will take a thorough, thoughtful and transparent approach that is guided by improving learning opportunities for students and finding efficiencies for taxpayers.”

The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) and Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), which both opposed a bill that would have forced district consolidation, welcome seats on Simon’s Classrooms First Commission. “The IASB applauds Lt. Governor Simon for heading this commission to look for efficiencies in school district structure and organization, instead of pushing for school district consolidation without local community involvement. We look forward to working with the commission,” said IASB Executive Director Emeritus Michael Johnson.

“We are pleased to be part of the commission, and believe that careful study and collaboration is the best approach to an issue like school district reorganization,” said IASA Executive Director Brent Clark. “This issue directly affects children and entire communities. We believe, and national studies have shown, that local control is a fundamental and necessary part of successful school reorganization.”

To learn more about the Classrooms First Commission and provide input to the members, click here.



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