Districts 75, 79 look to share
Teacher Mary Beth Anderson gathers some of the students for ribbon cutting at a school dedication ceremony in October for the Garden of Wisdom at Mechanics Grove School – a District 75 school. Districts 75 and 79 have been talking about ways to share more
Updated: January 19, 2013 2:33PM
MUNDELEIN — It’s not quite a consolidation, but two elementary school districts are looking at how they can share administrators.
After a three-hour joint meeting Jan. 7, the school boards from Mundelein Elementary District 75 and Fremont District 79 will meet again Jan. 23 to look closer at the details and develop opinions.
The two boards started talking in 2011 when the state of Illinois mandated annual reporting of how all district share resources with neighbors.
District 79 Communications Coordinator Margaret Van Duch said special education bussing and book-keeping duties were the first joint efforts.
This year, a bilingual coordinator was hired to work between the districts.
Heightened pension reform efforts in Springfield caused the two districts to accelerate the exploration process.
“The pension situation has terrorized both districts,” Van Duch said. “We want to move toward freeing up money in the event local districts have to cover additional pension expenses.”
For District 75, Superintendent Cynthia Heidorn announced she will retire in 2014. Having one superintendent for both districts would save considerable money, Heidorn said.
The tricky part about Heidorn’s retirement is that she also serves as District 75’s business manager.
“In 2008/09 when the financial world fell apart, the state owed us $1.6 million,” Heidorn said. “We made drastic cuts and had to let go of 45 employees. At the time, our business manager was retiring, and I thought it would be better for me to do dual roles instead of making schools share principals.”
Hiring one person to be business director and superintendent of both districts would not be reasonable, Heidorn said.
In one previous job, Heidorn was assistant superintendent for finance at Glen Ellyn School Elementary District 41. She said not all superintendent candidates would have their business certifications, and a three-role job would be impossible.
The Jan. 23 meeting will involve discussions on multiple potential administrative mergers, such as payroll, accounts payable, business administration, curriculum development, maintenance and professional development, among others.
No decisions have been made. Members from both boards have reviewed current staffing situations and job responsibilities.
Decisions are not expected in the imminently, but Van Duch said opinions and ideas are being formed so that potential plans for or against shared services can be acted on before Heidorn retires.
The model being following comes from when Lake Forest High School District 115 and Lake Forest Elementary School District 67 started sharing services in 2004.
By sharing a dozen administrative departments, the two Lake Forest districts collectively saved as much as $8 million ($600,000 per district, per year). District officials said they experienced elevated testing scores and graduation rates since freeing up that money.
Heidorn said board members would like the same for Mundelein.
“We’d like to put more money into the classroom if we can,” Heidorn said. “We want to leverage our resources to be as cost effective as possible. We’re all part of Fremont Township and we both feed into Mundelein High School, so this would ultimately benefit the whole community.”
When the initiative first arose in 2011, Heidorn said a full-out consolidation of the two Mundelein elementary districts was considered but rejected because of costs. She said each district has different debts, different insurance packages and different teacher pay scales that would all have to be equalized.
Heidorn said the state does offer financial help for merging school districts, but those payments have not been disbursed in recent years and the two boards considered themselves on there own if a consolidation were to occur.
“It would have cost the tax payers far too much to reconcile all those differences,” Heidorn said. “Remaining separate entities and sharing services, if the boards choose to go that route, would actually save money.”
District 75 did consider merging with Mundelein High School District 120 in the late 1990s, but Heidorn said similar financial problems stood in the way. The two districts do share bussing costs, however.
Start times throughout the two districts are tiered so each bus can make six deliveries per morning or afternoon. Heidorn said District 75 saves approximately $500,000 by sharing that transpiration expense with the high school.