JFC Budget Includes School Takeover Provisions Aimed at Racine Unified

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) budget includes modifications to the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP) school takeover law that are aimed at the Racine Unified School District (RUSD). The school district is not mentioned by name in the language of the motion adopted by the JFC but that language describes a school district with characteristics that currently apply only to RUSD.  (Statutory language of the budget bill will be finalized in the next few days, before the JFC-approved version goes first to the Assembly, then the Senate, for votes on the floor of those houses next week.) 

Under current law, the OSPP law applies to a school district that: (1) has a pupil membership is greater than 15,000; (2) was assigned to the lowest performance category on the accountability reports  (report cards) published for the district in the 2 most recent school years; and (3) received intradistrict transfer aid  in the same 2 most recent school years.

With roughly 19,500 students, Racine Unified is the fifth-largest district in the state.

The JFC budget would provide an avenue for  villages (e.g., Caledonia and Mount Pleasant) within the RUSD to break off and create their own new school districts.  It would also provide for a one-year delay in the creation of new spin-off school districts if the RUSD board refrains from delegating employee-benefit-related (i.e. employee handbook) decisions to a committee comprised partly of district staff.

Creation of an OSPPIf RUSD qualifies for the creation of an OSPP, the school district would have 120 days to demonstrate compliance to the Dept. of Administration (DOA) with a prohibition on school boards directly or indirectly delegating decisions about benefits. During this 120 days, the Governor, Mayor, and County Executive would compile a list of candidates for Commissioner of the OSPP, as under current law.

If RUSD receives certification of compliance from DOA, the OSPP would be delayed for one year.  If RUSD again places in the lowest report card category for the third consecutive year, the OSPP would be created following the current law timeline.

If RUSD does not receive certification from DOA, the OSPP would not be delayed and would be created following the current law timeline.

School District Creation: If RUSD qualifies for creation of an OSPP under either scenario above,  each village board clerk located within the school district is notified no later than Nov. 30. Within 60 days of notification, each village board may pass a resolution to create a new school district. The resolution must contain:

  • the territory of the new school district, which must correspond with village boundaries but may incorporate more than one village;
  • the name of the new school district;
  • the type of school district and grades to be taught;
  • the proposed effective date of school district creation, either July 1 of the following year or July 1 of the second following year.

If one or more villages adopt a resolution to create new school districts, require the School District Boundary Appeals Board to determine the allocation of assets and liabilities for the new district(s) within 180 days of notification of OSPP creation. The allocation of assets and liabilities must be determined as under current law, which provides for apportionment based on the ratio of all taxable property in the territory to be transferred to the equalized valuation of all taxable property of the detaching school district. Require the board to hold a public hearing on the proposed reorganization prior to determination.

A binding referendum must be held in November on the Tuesday following the first Monday of the month for each proposed school district. The referendum must be approved by a majority of voters residing in a proposed school district for the creation of a new district to occur.

If the referendum is successful, the village board(s) within the newly created school district must adopt a resolution specifying the number of school board members, initial terms of the board, and the method of election within 60 days of the referendum vote.

District creation would be effective on the date specified in the initial resolution adopted by the village board(s).

If RUSD certifies compliance with the prohibition of delegating benefits decisions but meets the criteria for creation of an OSPP in the following school year, require each village board that opted not to create a new school district to adopt a resolution containing a referendum question on creation of a new school district within 60 day of being notified of the OSPP.

Study of Proposed School District Reorganization: Require DPI to contract with an entity to conduct a study of the effect of reorganizing a school district (again aimed at RUSD) that meets the following criteria in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years:

  • is assigned the lowest performance category on the report cards; and
  • received intradistrict transfer aid.

The study would be required to look at creating new school district(s) that consist of one or more villages located within the eligible school district.  DPI must issue an RFP within 30 days after the effective date of the state budget bill.

The contract must require the entity to evaluate all of the following:

  • estimated general and categorical aid that the existing school district and new district(s) would receive after reorganization;
  • property tax impact;
  • inventory of school buildings; and
  • assets and liabilities of each school district.

The JFC approved language requires the report be published no later than 120 days after the contract is awarded.