During an interview last week, State Sen. Don Harmon (39th), the co-sponsor of a bill that would allow District 89 to pull out of the Proviso Area Exceptional Children Cooperative, or PAEC, explained his support of the legislation.
House Bill 6252 would amend the Illinois School Code to allow an elementary school district to withdraw from a cooperative like PAEC if that district “maintains grades up to and including grade 8 […] had a 2014-2015 best 3 months’ average daily attendance of 5,209.57 [and] a 2014 equalized assessed valuation of at least $451,500,000, but not more than $452,000,000, and the special education joint agreement consists of 6 school districts.”
The proposed legislation — which was co-sponsored by state Reps. Kathleen Willis (77th), Camille Y. Lilly (78th) and state Sens. Harmon (39th) and Steven Landek (12th) — passed both houses overwhelmingly on May 31 and awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature.
Critics of the legislation say that the bill establishes criteria that are exclusive to D89’s grade composition, attendance numbers and property tax base, and is tailored specifically to allow D89 to leave the cooperative by circumventing the process that’s in place for dealing with member district disagreements.
D89 has attempted to leave PAEC in the past, but the move has been consistently voted down by other districts within the six-member cooperative. The district’s superintendent, David Negron, has said that the move would allow special needs children to go to school with children from similar neighborhoods. District officials have also cited the move as a cost-saving measure, a claim that PAEC disputes.
“I don’t argue that it is an imperfect solution to the present problem and I have pledged with the stakeholders who are interested to work with them to develop an appropriate appeal process for school districts in these co-ops in Cook County,” Harmon said. “Today, there is no appeal process and it leaves a district like D89 without a remedy.”
Harmon said he felt that D89 “had nowhere else to turn but the legislator,” before adding that the bill “shouldn’t be precedent for a series of similar bills” that would allow other districts to pull out of similar co-ops.
Harmon also addressed the argument, made by some critics of the legislation, that it may not be necessary since West 40 Intermediate Service Center has already been given the responsibilities of a regional board of education when the latter was disbanded several years ago.
“Nobody suggested before the bill was passed that D89 could appeal to West 40,” Harmon said. VFP