Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

March 10, 2014

St. Elmo, Brownstown school boards discuss consolidation option

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

ST. ELMO — St. Elmo and Brownstown School Boards met to discuss finances and incentives for consolidation at a special board retreat.

At the retreat Monday, Deb Philpot and Adam Bussard, superintendents of St. Elmo and Brownstown respectively, laid out their districts' financial situations and looked into the options available if consolidation is chosen. Both districts have had to deal with increasingly prorated state aid and other financial difficulties, such as cuts to DHS funding and decreased enrollment.

Philpot said St. Elmo has been attempting to deal with decreased state funding and other financial pressures through slowly cutting staff and not filling positions of staff members who retire.

"We have been making cuts through attrition," she said. "We've cut or saved over $1.5 million over the last few years in our district to keep a lid on what the state has given us."

Philpot said the continuing proration of state aid and threatened cuts to transportation and state aid funding point to the state wanting to push school districts together or force consolidation.

"I feel like what they're trying to do is take the smaller districts and smother them," she said.

Bussard said Brownstown has been impacted heavily by the prorated aid due to the district's low revenues on the real estate tax and cut funding for DHS students.

"We are a district that relies heavily on state revenue," he said. "Between 66 and 70 percent of our revenue is from there so when they prorate us, it really hurts."

The solution may come from a consolidation. According to numbers from the Illinois State Board of Education, if Brownstown and St. Elmo consolidated, the newly joined district would receive nearly $1.75 million in incentives over the next four years. Bussard said his district may be running out of options without considering consolidation as few cuts can still be made without hurting students.

"We can't keep cutting," he said. "How deep do you want to go, how much do you have to cut without negatively impacting students?"