Advisory referendum would be first step; entire process would break new ground
GIFFORD — Gifford students could have some other options after grade school if voters indicate a desire to detach from Rantoul Township High School.
Gifford Superintendent Rod Grimsley said there has been sentiment among some residents to consider such a move in the past, but the Nov. 17 tornado provided more impetus. One option being discussed is a K-12 consolidation with Armstrong-Potomac.
"Now with the tornado hitting Gifford and our long-term recovery, the community keeps saying our tax rate is really high," Grimsley said. "I am not sure what the tax rate would be with the consolidated efforts with Armstrong-Potomac, but there would be a strong possibility that it would go down with a consolidated school."
But many hurdles have to be surmounted before that can become reality.
The first step would involve placing an advisory referendum on the November ballot, asking Gifford voters if they're interested in detaching. The school board would pass along those results to a community committee, which would decide whether to proceed.
If the committee is successful in its detachment, the school board could begin talks with Armstrong-Potomac about a consolidation. Then, there would be a hearing before the regional board of trustees, said Jane Quinlan, Champaign-Ford regional superintendent of schools.
The entire process would break new ground, Grimsley said, because there are so few grade school districts in Illinois that have sought to detach from a high school district.
Gifford residents pay a tax rate of $2.71 per $100 assessed valuation plus a rate of $2.72 per $100 assessed valuation to RTHS for a combined rate of $5.43.
Armstrong-Potomac Superintendent William Mulvaney said his district, which includes only the high school, has a tax rate of $2.531 per $100 assessed valuation.
The savings would come if Gifford Grade School should consolidate with A-P — and other grade school districts (Armstrong-Ellis and Potomac) join in.
"We have a very, very unique setup. There's not very many like these in the state of Illinois," Grimsley said. "That's why it's very hard to get information from the State Board of Education.
"With the uniqueness, there has not been a precedent. This whole thing is very confusing."
Even if Gifford would pay tuition to send its students to RTHS or Armstrong, the rate would still be lower, Grimsley said.
"We're pretty heavily taxed with the high school rate and the elementary district tax," he said.
The Gifford superintendent said board members have received a great deal of input from community members, asking whether the detachment can be done.
"Then the tornado hit and we're looking at rebuilding," Grimsley said.
The advisory referendum is non-binding. The school board will release the results to the community committee. It would be up to the committee whether it wants to pursue a detachment. The school board would then be involved in setting up options for the future, Grimsley said.
"If we get 1,000 votes, and 85 percent support it, then (it is more likely to happen)," he said.
Another factor in a desire to detach by some residents is the environment, he said.
"The Rantoul High School environment and what you see at Gifford Elementary School are a lot different," Grimsley said, referencing students going from a small school to a "big school culture."
Grimsley said about 65 Gifford students are enrolled at RTHS. RTHS's enrollment is 791.
RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio said he had no comment. He said he had not been informed by Gifford officials about the advisory referendum.
But Armstrong-Potomac's Mulvaney said he has spoken with Grimsley about possible detachment.
"I think certainly we would welcome Gifford with open arms," Mulvaney said. "Penfield is part of the Gifford Grade School district but (also) part of the Armstrong High School district, so we get Gifford kids anyway."