Quick Hits – December 20, 2017

U-46 really is too big – Part 2

Despite the imminent pitchfork and torch armed mob’s arrival, let’s continue the conversation regarding the fact that U-46 should be broken up into two or three smaller school districts. Since I’m shocked I’ve made it as far as 59 anyway, I have absolutely no problem diving into the whole angels and fools thing.

What’s particularly amusing about this debate is, everyone asks me to provide all sorts of proof, but they fail to offer the scantest support for their bigger is better theory. Of course, my best evidence is twelve years covering government entities of all shapes and sizes and, with rate exception, the bigger they are, the more problematic and difficult they are to manage.


Put more simply, without casting any aspersions on anyone in U-46, there are limits to what one central team in one central office can accomplish on behalf of 40,400 diverse students spread out over 90 square miles. That’s why it’s called the law of diminishing returns.

And when I say “diminishing returns,” as it is with any profession or business, I also mean the pool of truly talented individuals only runs so deep. And this statistical reality puts any extra-large school district at yet another distinct disadvantage. By virtue of its very size, U-46 is frequently forced to settle for various shades of mediocrity.

I’ve seen it firsthand!

To make that matter so much worse, the people who prefer being a small cog in such a large gear tend to be those who embrace a lack of accountability. Have you ever tried to get a large corporation to admit who actually made the mistake? Given the opportunity to become a U-46 or St. Charles administrator, I’d choose D303 every time.

All that said, an alternative to a district breakup would be to implement the kind of borough-like system New York City uses to make administering that behemoth much more manageable. U-46 could install three sub-superintendents with offices in Elgin, Streamwood, and Bartlett, all of whom would report back to the CEO. It would be far more efficient than the current setup, and whatever extra salaries would be required would be offset by the new efficiencies.

But the best reason U-46 should be downsized is the district’s size inexorably turns it into a proxy war battleground.

To wit, U-46 is the largest Illinois school district in which board members are elected and not appointed. Since school boards deal with two of our most precious commodities – children and money – U-46 has become an unofficial arena for board members on both partisan sides to push an ideological agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with student performance and welfare.

Would the Edgar County Loons have descended upon U-46 if it weren’t for its size, the potential publicity, and certain board members’ propensity to resort to a purely political divide? Nope!

Think about all the time wasted on pointless overflow board meetings, pointless board bickering by both factions, and carpet baggers trying to turn the district into a self-serving ideological war of attrition.

Name another Illinois school district where this kind of insipid warfare has raged on for three long years? Don’t bother trying, because you can’t do it.

Some folks did reasonably argue that, were U-46 to be divided, it would cost them the Larkin Academy and a few other benefits only large districts can offer. Why? Since the Great Recession, to keep property taxes down, municipalities are cooperating on heavy equipment purchases like snow plows, fire trucks and specialized police vehicles. And they’re putting on multi-municipality fireworks displays, too.

Then a couple of people asked, “What if these new districts don’t cooperate?” That’s not evidence, that’s fear, and fear never gets us anywhere. I’d like to think that the folks who teach our children to cooperate would be able to adhere to the same low standard.

Other folks argued that property taxes would skyrocket if the district was divided, but they cited Bartlett’s earlier attempt to secede from the district, which was an entirely different proposition.  I’m sure costs would go up in the short run, but if it significantly improves the prospect of student success – as I strongly suspect it would – isn’t it worth that temporary short-term cost?

Bleep! I’m going overtime again. That means you can look forward to my conclusion in part three on Friday.  (If I live that long.)

7 thoughts on “Quick Hits – December 20, 2017

  1. Here is how you stop talk of breaking up U-46 into smaller districts: Make it mandatory that every newly-created district MUST include some Elgin schools in it.


  2. Look at the Kaneland school district to see another unwieldy nightmare.

    The district was consolidated from four small rural districts in 1948, when the problem was too many schools and not enough students.
    Suburban development of Sugar Grove, Elburn, Cortland, and the west side of Maple Park has reversed this by 180 degrees. If your high-school kid lives at the northwest corner of Orchard Road and U.S. 30, a school
    bus carries him/her on a long journey to the school, corner Meredith and Keslinger Roads, even in hazardous winter blizzard conditions.

    If no other change is made, at least separate Sugar Grove from the district. SG’s aggressive urbanization policies and increasing population justify it’s schools being an entity independent from Kaneland.

  3. Jeff, I’m boy saying that bigger is better. U-46 is what it is. I would ask, what benefit would there be in breaking it into smaller districts it h error than the belief that smaller is better?

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