By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Regional Office of Education serving Hancock and McDonough counties will merge with its counterpart in Schuyler and Fulton counties as part of a state-mandated realignment plan.
But residents should see little impact after the two offices consolidate in 2015.
"We do not see there being much change. That's why it was so appealing to the school districts and counties," said John Meixner, regional superintendent in Hancock and McDonough counties. "We were already doing so much together anyway."
The state last year reduced the number of ROEs in Illinois from 44 to 35 and set a new population threshold of at least 61,000 for each region. Neither office met the new threshold -- Hancock and McDonough had 51,716 in the last census and Schuyler and Fulton had 44,613, Meixner said -- prompting the merger approved by resolution this month by the four County Boards.
"If we're going to maintain the office, this is one of the only ways to do it, to be proactive instead of having somebody else tell us who we're supposed to join," Hancock County Board Chairman Cary Gray said. "The state had dictated to those who didn't have 61,000 in their designated region in population somehow had to get over that mark. This seemed the best way to do it."
A regional superintendent for the four counties will be elected in November 2014 and take office on July 1, 2015.
The merger will mean savings for the state.
"It's not going to save the locals any money to speak of, and hopefully, it won't cost us a substantial amount more," Gray said.
The county's cost tied to the office, now about $43,000, continues to rise about 2 percent a year, Gray said. By 2015, when the merger takes effect, Gray said the county's cost will be $47,000.
But Gray's convinced there's still a need to for the ROE.
"I don't believe the local districts can handle all the state-mandated regulations they handle," Gray said. "Recently schools have been taking a huge hit as far as revenue goes. Especially the smaller ones have no means to carry out programs to stay in compliance."
Plans call for keeping the current administrative structure in place as much as possible and preserving offices in Macomb and Lewistown that serve both regions. A satellite office in Carthage, staffed part-time, remains open for now.
Meixner and Dave Demler, regional superintendent for Schuyler and Fulton counties, have worked to keep the public informed about the merger plan and about the services provided by the offices.
Merging "made the most sense because of our similarities and the services we do share," Meixner said.
The two regions already bring together local school district superintendents for monthly meetings to discuss updates on new laws and rules and talk about how to handle joint challenges and opportunities. The regions work together with the West Central Illinois Special Education Cooperative, Western Area Career System and other grant programs.
"The goal is to try to find a way to least impact the school districts. I think this is the way to do it," Meixner said.
"Our concern all along has been to put our students, our schools and communities first and do everything possible to continue to serve them well," Demler said in a news release. "John and I believe merging our offices is the best way to do that, and we'll continue to work to try to make that happen."