Taxpayers receive ‘breathing room’ after announcement at Sandburg
Taxpayers who came to Sandburg High School ready for a fight last Thursday unclenched their fists a bit after hearing that proposed legislation that would strip millions of dollars from local schools will not be considered by the Illinois House of Representatives until next spring.
The announcement, made by Orland School District 135 Board President Joseph S. La Margo, was heard by more than 200 parents and others at a town hall meeting regarding the impacts of Senate Bill 16, the School Funding Reform Act of 2014.
The event was hosted by School District 230 and included officials, parents and others from school districts 117, 118, 127, 135, 140, 146, and 230.
The proposed state legislation, passed by the State Senate in May but not yet considered by the House, may result in the loss of millions of dollars in state aid to local public schools, cutbacks that include layoffs, and significant local property tax increases—all in the name of fairness and re-distributing middle-class tax dollars to impoverished school districts.
Those who oppose SB 16 have expressed fears in recent weeks that the bill’s supporters would try to slip the measure through the House in the lame-duck, veto session in January.
“This is encouraging news,” said Palos Park resident David Baumgarten, whose grandchildren attend District 118 schools. “The politicians pushed us, and we pushed back. We were afraid that the Democrats would play dirty and ram it through in January, but now it looks like we have some breathing room with this bill, time to right this wrong.”
La Margo called the tabling of the House bill good news, but added a note of caution.
“Until this bill is completely killed, we will continue to inform our communities of its financial impact to our districts,” La Margo said from the lectern. “We cannot presume that any changes or modifications will be made [before it is considered in the spring].”
After the meeting, La Margo warned against complacency.
“It’s always a concern that people are going to lay off a bit and assume that [the proposed legislation] will go by the wayside, but then the [proponents] may try to sneak it through, so we have to keep an eye on this,” he noted. “It’s important for all of us to stay on our legislators to make sure they stand with us in opposing this.”
La Margo, the father of three—and soon to be four--children in local public schools, added that if SB 16 were passed in its current form, the financially healthy district will have exhausted its financial reserves and be “out of money” within three to five years—assuming it does not cut services or lay off staff.
Parents at the event were clear and not shy about their opposition to SB 16.
“I have a huge stake in this,” said Orland Park resident Tracy Pelini, president of the District 135 Parents For Education (PFE) organization and a mother of four children enrolled in district schools—a seventh grader the three fourth graders. “I’m a taxpayer, I own a home here in town, and I want the taxes I pay—which are substantial—to go to my children’s education. My husband and I work very hard for the house own and the life that we have.
“We moved to Orland Park specifically because of the high quality of education, and I don’t want to see anything happen to that,” she added. “I absolutely agree that all children deserve a good education, without a doubt, but I think our legislators need to come up with a better way to fund education. What they’re proposing with this bill is not the way to do it. You cannot take from some to give to others.”
PFE members staffed two tables at the event, urging people to sign a petition against SB 16. By the time the two-hour event ended, volunteers had boosted their cumulative total to about 1,000 signatures. Those who have not yet signed but want to are encouraged to visit ipetitions.com and conduct an “Orland” search of the website.
Keynote speaker at Thursday’s meeting was Robert Grossi, Bloom Township treasurer and president of Crystal Financial Consultants, which provides financial advisory services to school districts throughout the state. A number of elected officials, school board members, school administrators and others were on hand to express their concern about the proposed legislation.
Grossi told the audience that if SB 16 is passed in its current form, the Southwest Suburbs will be negatively affected “more than any other area in the state.”
He added that a robust economic recovery would essentially solve the current school funding dilemma, but that with the state’s loss of population and jobs, he remains “skeptical about the future of education funding in Illinois.”
Pulling in the loudest applause of the evening was Hickory Hills resident Debbie Chaffee, a home-based business analyst an project manager, as well as mother of two children attending schools in the North Palos District 117.
Chaffee has been the lead organizer of a grassroots effort to stop SB 16. Via her website, EDGEIllinois.com, she has attracted statewide attention and helped muster parents, school officials and others.