It could take a few years — and a taxpayer vote — for five Illinois Quad-City school districts to merge into one.
That is, if the districts themselves decide that they want to merge.
Whatever the final decision will be, it's one that can't be made lightly, said Jay Morrow, superintendent of the United Township High School District.
"If we move forward on this as a community, we have to do it right," Morrow told a group of about 30 people who gathered at the high school Wednesday night for a public forum.
During Wednesday's forum, Morrow discussed the findings of a consolidation study, released earlier this summer, that examined whether it would be feasible for United Township to merge with elementary school districts in Carbon Cliff/Barstow, Colona, East Moline and Silvis.
The elementary districts, including the Hampton Elementary School District, all feed into the high school.
Hampton did not participate in the study.
The districts, which have discussed consolidation for years, resumed discussions shortly after Gov. Pat Quinn proposed moving toward countywide, rather than individual, school districts.
Three former superintendents commissioned to complete the study found that the benefits of consolidating would be more enriched extracurricular activities, the ability to maintain small class sizes and financial stability.
The consultants also recommended that all 10 schools within the districts remain open.
One of the biggest advantages of consolidating districts, Morrow said, is having a more aligned K-8 curriculum that falls in line with Common Core requirements.
"When they come to a high school, (students) in theory should be on the same level playing field," Morrow said.
Districts also would have to work out several financial issues, such as salaries and tax rates, which vary from district to district.
Morrow said the study determined that the maximum property tax rate for a consolidated district would be $5.70 per $100 of assessed property value.
Currently, the levy for UT and East Moline is about $5.62; UT and Silvis is $5.78; UT and Colona is $4.56; and UT and Carbon Cliff/Barstow is $5.02.
If the districts decide to consolidate, property owners could see either an increase or decrease in taxes, Morrow said.
Morrow said he expects in increase in general state aid with a unified district, but acknowledged that nothing is guaranteed, given Illinois' finances.
During the forum, Morrow also gave a tentative timetable for what needs to happen for a merger.
If the districts decide they want to merge, a committee of community members would be appointed to draft consolidation ballot questions and petition the regional office of education, which would hold a public hearing. Then, the questions could be sent to Illinois State Board of Education, where another public hearing would be held.
If the ballot questions passed through both departments, then the ballot questions could be on the ballot in the November 2014 election.
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If voters approve a merger, the districts then would elect one board of education and begin the process of negotiating contracts with teachers and staff, hire a superintendent and begin other planning and implementation.
The new district could be open and operational by July 2016, Morrow said.
If a merger is approved, it would be the first hybrid district in the state, Morrow said.
Tom Bender of Colona has been a janitor at Glenview Junior High in East Moline for 13 years.
He said only United Township and East Moline have a union for custodians and said he is concerned that a consolidation could eliminate those unions.
Morrow said that the number of teachers likely would stay the same in a new district. With other positions, he said, "it depends."
Mary and Mike DeBrouwer of Silvis said they pay property taxes in the United Township, East Moline and Silvis school districts.
Mary DeBrouwer said she and her husband have three grandchildren who attend United Township.
"Mostly to us, (consolidating) is economical," she said.
The DeBrouwers said they believe their property taxes would stay the same or go down if the districts consolidate.