District to assess options with neighbors
ATWOOD - School board members for this rural Piatt County district have unanimously agreed to investigate the possibilities of cooperation with neighboring districts.
?We're going to investigate any and all information that would lead to any and all possibilities, and if anyone asks if that includes consolidation, it does,? said Superintendent Steven Hamilton. ?Does it mean we're going to consolidate? No. Does it mean we're not going to consolidate? No.?
Compared with neighboring districts like Bement, which recently announced significant cutbacks and class consolidations, the Atwood-Hammond district is financially sound. About 470 students attend the schools and the district employs about 65 people.
?We're in pretty good shape, not great shape, but we have a real good surplus of money,? Hamilton said. ?We'll be able to weather storms for a while. The board has been careful spending money.
?But I don't see the financial situation for education in Illinois getting much better for many years. You might be sitting on a pot of gold, but it won't last forever.?
Hamilton said farmland assessments that dropped 10 percent last year and are expected to drop another 10 percent this year are one contributing factor, but shortfalls in state funding are the main problem.
?A lot of districts around here are in bad shape, and it comes primarily from the state,? he said. ?The state's asking school districts to balance the state's budget for it. We've been told we probably won't get our last two payments from the state this year so we'll have to eat our reserves, then scramble like crazy.?
Hamilton said he already has talked to superintendents at Arthur, Bement, Cerro Gordo, Lovington and Tuscola about cooperation and all but one of them were interested.
?There's no time frame,? he said. ?It's a long, drawn-out process, and you have to do what's best for students. You can't rush into consolidation. We have to decide what we want to do, consolidate or do other things.?
The district's elementary school students have just moved into a brand new school that replaces a building dating from 1914. Hamilton said the high school dates from about 1917, but it's in solid shape.
?But it's not large enough to hold many more students than we have,? he said.
Atwood and Hammond school districts consolidated their grade schools in the 1971-72 school year. The high schools had consolidated earlier.
Hamilton, who comes from the urban Granite City district, said he's closely watching proposals now in the General Assembly's legislative steering committee that would reorganize schools into districts with a minimum high school enrollment of 250.
?It's a neat concept,? Hamilton said. ?The state would build a new high school for the new districts with more than 250 kids. But it hasn't been passed yet.?
About 130 youngsters attend Atwood-Hammond's high school.
?We have to make the educational process more efficient, to increase programs and to establish the maximum efficiency for our funds,? Hamilton said. ?That's exactly what's facing all of us in central Illinois. My board has been far-sighted, recognizing that we can't just sit. And I think a lot of the superintendents and boards in the area are being proactive.?
Board members asked Hamilton to explore these options at its regular meeting this week.