Wednesday, January 20, 2016

State task force releases report on consolidation, unfunded mandates

By Deanna Sullivan, director, IASB Governmental Relations

Click to access the report.
Governor Bruce Rauner has demonstrated a continued resolve regarding his proposed reforms. The work of the Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates established under Executive Order 15-15, headed up by Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, made recommendations that support the governor’s proposed reforms.

While the 406-page report, “Delivering Efficient, Effective, and Streamlined Government to Illinois Taxpayers” addresses all Illinois local governments, there are recommendations that specifically target schools. The task force primarily focused on consolidation and unfunded mandates as charged, but was driven by the notion that the number of local governments and unfunded mandates are the root of Illinois’ overreliance on property taxes.

The full report can be accessed here.

Consolidation Recommendations and IASB Position Statements
While early versions of the consolidation recommendations considered by the task force were problematic for schools, final Recommendation 10 reflects IASB positions allowing local decision-making and incentivizing consolidation in lieu of a forced consolidation model:

“School District Consolidation: Provide the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) flexibility to incentivize outcomes of school district consolidation. … School district consolidation can lead to enhanced academic offerings, K-12 curriculum alignment, and improved administrative efficiencies. Incentivizing these outcomes through ISBE could lead to school district consolidation without the application of a one-size-fits-all consolidation model.”

Additionally, recommendations calling for protecting the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act and encouraging state agencies to financially incentivize regional sharing of various functions, products, facilities, etc. allows for flexibility and encourages efficiencies across local government entities.

Unfunded Mandate Recommendations and IASB Position Statements
The other directive for the task force produced much more for schools under the Unfunded Mandate Recommendations. Six of the recommendations directly address IASB Positions:

  • Recommendation 2: IASB Position Statement 5.05 – Prevailing Wage Act
  • Recommendation 3: IASB Position Statement 5.14 – Third Party Contracting
  • Recommendation 4: IASB Position Statement 1.03 – Physical Education
  • Recommendation 5: IASB Position Statement 2.07 – Contracting Driver’s Education
  • Recommendation 6: IASB Position Statement 5.03 – Collective Bargaining
  • Recommendation 10: IASB Position Statement 6.23 – Mandate Cost and Periodic Review

Recommendation 1, “Modernize newspaper public notice mandates,” allowing local units of government the option to post online public notices and other public information, is something IASB has worked to enact for many years under its unfunded mandates Position 2.03.

Additional recommendations calling for a constitutional amendment on unfunded mandates — allowing the governor to insert “if economically feasible” in amendatory vetoes and then allowing local governments to exempt themselves from compliance with unfunded mandates — would certainly go a long way to support local decision-making. It would also help curb the practice of passing costly mandates on to local school districts.

Unfunded Mandates Survey and Data
The task force asked local governments to provide data regarding unfunded mandates. School districts were surveyed for this data in September and October 2015. Survey results are reflected in the recommendations and a more comprehensive analysis of the results is provided in the task force report’s appendix (page 78). Most significantly, schools reported that changes to these mandated programs could result in nearly $8 billion in savings statewide.

While we all know the recommendations made by this task force are controversial and difficult for lawmakers to tackle, the current administration continues to make these issues the center point of budget negotiations. As noted in a December 14 News Blog item by Ben Schwarm, deputy executive director of IASB, “Key issues supported by the IASB and the Alliance partners are still part of the budget compromise mix, including mandate relief for school districts, the repeal or major re-write of the law that stifles a school district’s use of third party contractors for non-education related district services, and limiting the scope of the Prevailing Wage Law as it pertains to school districts.”

The release of the task force report at the beginning of a new legislative year is a reminder to lawmakers that these issues are important to the work being done in the Capitol for 2016. It remains critical for success in this effort that school board members continue to communicate to legislators the importance of providing mandate relief, encouraging flexibility, and incentivizing opportunities to work cooperatively to cut costs.

IASB and Alliance partners were acknowledged as making invaluable contributions to this report. Special recognition and thanks goes to Steffanie Seegmiller, Arthur-Lovington CUSD 305 board president, who was appointed to the task force on behalf of IASB and devoted countless hours representing the interests of local school boards and the Association. Thanks also to those schools and personnel that took time to provide vital information in the survey process.