The last yearbook, the final recording of a school's existence, was dedicated to the memory of a 52-year-old high school as its doors closed behind its last graduating class, the Class of 1972. The worn hallways in the rural Central Illinois school were idle during the 1972-73 school year. Students from the community the school once served walked to classes instead through carpeted corridors.
Decades ago it began. Not just the closing of one small rural high school, but the closing of seven such schools, all with the halls that echoed with laughter, all with memories always to be treasured by those who made them.
It was April, 1966, when 35 school board members unanimously agreed to study the feasibility of consolidating their five school districts. All that transpired since citizens from the eight communities involved in the consolidation agreed to form one district, is now history. It is this history of the creation of a school district, the largest in area in the State of Illinois, that could be of importance to other Districts considering similar school reorganization.
The task of consolidating five school districts into one district encompassing 377 square miles, was not a simple undertaking. Problems arose that would have seemed inconceivable in April, 1966, when school board members authorized the feasibility study.
School officials from the five existing school districts serving Armington, Atlanta, Danvers, Hopedale, McLean, Minier, Stanford and Waynesville recognized that the expansion of knowledge which had occurred in recent years would continue in years to come. It was difficult for the small schools to employ teachers with more than one area of specialization. As is true in other small schools, administrators were faced with the choice of employing teachers who would work only part-time, cooperating with neighboring schools to combine student enrollments in order to create a base large enough to make it economically possible to have specialists in all or nearly all subject areas.
Problems endured in operating small districts are varied. Some of the greatest difficulties encountered by small schools include:
- providing students with an education that oftentimes is considered inferior to that which could be received given the same resources in a larger district.
- meeting the extremely high costs of providing good programs with adequate service in small schools.
- providing teachers with the training and assistance necessary to maintain or upgrade the quality of education.
Overall, education provided by small school districts frequently does not offer each student the particular educational opportunities he or she needs and wants. Combined with this, figures from the Illinois Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction show small school districts spend at least the same amount as, and in many cases, more per pupil than large districts.
These factors were among those influencing board members to consider the feasibility of consolidating their school districts. An Educational Feasibility Study was prepared and published in June, 1966, recommending consolidation. Prepared by Dr. Benjamin C. Hubbard, Professor of Educational Administration at Illinois State University, the Feasibility Study was designed to determine whether the proposed district would be beneficial to the district students residing in the five existing school districts. A Steering Committee consisting of Board members from the five districts assisted in informing the public of the various aspects of the consolidation and answered citizens' questions about the project. As recognized in the Feasibility Study, the arguments for and against consolidation are many. In the final analysis of any consolidation effort, however, the only valid question existing is: What is the best for the students of the district or districts?
The Feasibility Study took this basic question and considering the offerings available at the existing high schools, compared what could be done with the same money and energy under some other proposed arrangement. Study recommendations and suggestions were based on the new district maintaining and improving elementary schools through grade eight and constructing a single high school.
Consolidation was not a unique concept to many of the residents in the proposed new district. During the 1940's numerous schools existing in the area combined to form unit districts. After 1950 and prior to the creation of the Olympia District, the schools involved in the consolidation developed as follows:
- In 1954, McLean and Waynesville consolidated to form the McLean - Waynesville District.
- In 1965, Armington, Hopedale and Minier consolidated to form a new district called Trioka.
- Atlanta, Danvers and Stanford maintained separate unit schools districts until becoming part of the new district in 1966.
Elementary attendance centers and high schools operated in each of the eight communities except in Waynesville which operated only elementary grades 1 - 8. Waynesville students in grades 9 - 12 attended high school at McLean. The seven high schools were all housed in buildings that were inadequate for a school such as that proposed for the new district. Consolidating the five districts and constructing a new high school on a large site would allow for growth if district population increased.
The planning phase of the new high school involved the study of the students to be served, the needs of the community and an intensive study of how all subjects could best be taught. The Feasibility Study had also considered building costs and curriculum improvements which would result from consolidation. It was noted the only new building cost resulting from the reorganization would be that of constructing the new high school. Had the separate districts attempted to build adequate high schools, the cost would have greatly exceeded the cost of one central high school. The Feasibility Study recommended intensive work be done with architects to ensure proper housing for the educational program. Special attention was to be given to construction of a facility that would enhance the educational environment and at the same time be aesthetically pleasing. In the area of curriculum, the Feasibility Study showed that fewer teachers would be needed to improve offerings available at the existing high schools if all the teachers were in one building. The elementary curriculum could be improved by using some of the teachers saved by combining the high schools. Teachers would be able to teach in their areas of specialization and the elementary program could be enriched by using other specialists. Overall, the Feasibility Study stressed the need for the new high school to serve the students of the seven existing high schools. School administrators in 1966 firmly believed the existing schools could not give students the opportunities needed by modern youth at a cost reasonable to tax payers. The proposed district and new high school would make possible a quality educational program within a reasonable economical realm.
It was recognized that no school could be guaranteed quality whatever its size. The ability to take advantage of the opportunities resulting from consolidation depended upon citizen awareness and commitment as well as Board of Education commitment to achieve a great school system. Staff determination to succeed and dedication to quality education were also recognized as vital necessities for the proposed district.
November 12, 1966, five months after publication of the Feasibility Study, citizens of the proposed district approved consolidation by a three to one margin. The new school district, the State's largest in area, was named "Olympia" in May, 1967. Selected from over 80 names submitted to the Board by students and community councils, "Olympia" symbolized the ability to excel in many areas. An option on 83 acres of farmland was taken May 17, 1967. The land, located centrally in the District, would be the site of Olympia High School. Operation of the Olympia District officially began July 1, 1967.
Although voters in the District approved the formation of the Olympia District in 1966, and also approved a Four Million Dollar Bond Issue in November, 1967, it was two years before all of the legal problems could be resolved so as to allow for the construction of the new high school facility.
The consolidation of the five underlying Community Unit School Districts comprised of territories in portions of five contiguous counties presented certain novel problems not anticipated in the language of the Illinois School Code. Also, some of the old organizational records relating to the underlying districts were imprecise in the legal description of certain of the territory to be part of the proposed district. In addition, some of the publication notices relating to the organizational procedures and the bond election were thought not to conform with the various provisions of the Illinois School Code. Some of these problems were jurisdictional in their nature. For these reasons it was determined that the establishment of the District should be confirmed by a Quo Warranto proceeding brought by the legal State's Attorney. A Quo Warranto proceeding is a statutory remedy customarily used for such purposes. In addition, by reason of some of the same jurisdictional problems, a new Bond Election was required to be held.
The McLean County State's Attorney commenced a Quo Warranto proceeding on December 22, 1967, in the Circuit Court of McLean County. The Olympia School District was organized under the jurisdiction of the McLean County Superintendent of Schools. The Circuit Court of McLean County entered a decree confirming the establishment of the School District on January 8, 1968. The State's Attorney determined not to appeal this decision. Five taxpayers who were voters and residents of the District appealed the decision. On November 18, 1968, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District, affirmed the decree of the Circuit Court of McLean County confirming the establishment of the District. Thereafter, on January 13, 1969, those taxpayers file a Petition For Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Petition For Leave to Appeal was denied by that court on March 13, 1969, and also denied on May 13, 1969, was the taxpayers' Motion for Certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court of the United States denied the taxpayers Petition For Writ of Certiorari on November 10, 1969.
On March 2, 1968, the voters of the District, in a special election called for that purpose, again approved the Four Million Dollar Bond Issue. The same taxpayers who opposed the District in the Quo Warranto proceeding filed a Petition with the Circuit Court in Tazewell County to contest the second Bond Issue Election on March 18, 1968. An interim appeal was taken by the School District in the course of the Bond Election Contest on June 4, 1968. This appeal was not successful, thus the cause was remanded to the Trial Court in Tazewell County for further proceedings. The ballots were counted which confirmed the passage of the Bond Issue Election. On December 23, 1969, Judgment of the Trial Court was entered in that case. The Petitioners did not appeal from this judgment.
The litigation involving the District caused many problems. In late March, 1968, Olympia's financial condition was such that the District faced the possibility of suspending operations in mid-April unless additional funds could be secured. Banks would not lend the District money through tax anticipation warrants because of the litigation. Students faced the chance of losing the last semester of credit, seniors would be unable to graduate and State aid for the District would be lost. Teachers, it was felt, would seek other employment for the next school year because of the financial problem. After meeting with the then State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ray Page, Olympia administrators were a bit more optimistic. Page offered the District his full cooperation in the legal problems plaguing the District and assured the administrators that necessary operating funds would be secured. Money due the District from State and Federal funds was expedited by the State Office to alleviate the District's financial situation.
With the termination of the litigation by the Supreme Court of the United States on November 10, 1969, as to the organization of the District, and with the Judgment on December 23, 1969, of the Circuit Court of Tazewell County confirming the passage of the second Bond Issue Election, the District's major legal problems were resolved so that the District could proceed with the construction of the new high school. The bonds were sold April 2, 1970. Interest earned on the investments was utilized in the high school building project. Construction contracts were accepted August 3, 1970. Ground breaking ceremonies were held the next week.
The adjusted total cost of Olympia High School, including provisions for contingencies, was approximately $5,025,900. The building program was financed from the Four Million Dollar Bond sale, the $472,000 interest from Bon investment, and $530,900 from funds provided in Annual Budgets since 1967. The two years of litigation had been costly to the District, not so much in terms of legal fees, but more in terms of inflation and loss of special funding. The following costs were a direct result of the delays:
|Increased building costs
| Increased interest
| Loss of grant to establish a vocational center
| In addition, the loss of reimbursement of special funds was estimated to have cost the district
|TOTAL ESTIMATED COST OF DELAY
Construction on the new high school continued for the next two years. On September 1, 1972, the facility opened to admit 940 students representing the eight communities in the Olympia District. Construction was not totally completed and during the first few months of school, much improvisation was done by school officials. It had been a difficult struggle encompassing seven long years of meetings, set-backs and legal entanglements, but Olympia High School had finally become a visible reality and could embark on its mission of providing a quality educational system for the District's students.
Located in rural Central Illinois, Olympia High School stands as an example of innovation, uniqueness and educational opportunity. To those who struggled for its creation, the District symbolizes an accomplishment for rural education that many times seemed unreachable. Visitors to Olympia High School have been amazed by the facility and the advantages available to its students. To those the District serves, Olympia indeed symbolizes the ability to excel.