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Bill of Wrongs - Local school officials and politicians cry foul over Senate Bill 16

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Well, at least one person had something Page-1-3-or-4-col-crop-tight-No-BackHigh School District 230 President Rick Nogal holds up a copy of the 450-page Senate Bill 16 last week at a special meeting at Conrady Middle School in Hickory Hills. The bill could cut millions of dollars from area schools and was the subject of meetings at Conrady last Wednesday and Sandburg High School last Thursday. Photo by Jeff Vorva.positive to say about Senate Bill 16 at last Wednesday’s forum at Conrady Junior High in Hickory Hills.

“It will not pass in its present form,” state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th) told more than 300 residents gathered in the Conrady gymnasium. “We need to have this discussion and this debate.”
Those were about the only good words uttered about the proposed legislation, which would drastically affect the amount state funding local school districts receive.
Collins was one of the several elected officials and area school board members to attend the forum, which was designed to inform residents about the SB 16. Residents were not given an opportunity to speak. Instead, they submitted questions that were answered at the end of the session. A second forum was held last Thursday at Sandburg High School.
On Wednesday, audience members and school officials were under the impression that Illinois legislators would vote on this in January but Thursday’s audience was told it would be tabled until the spring session.
The purpose of the bill is correct inequities in the state’s funding of public education, but the impact on area school districts would be devastating, opponents said.
“District 230 would lose all of its state funding,” said Rick Nogal, school board president of Consolidated School District 230. “It would be wiped out.”
Thirty-eight percent of the 25,000 students in District 230 and its six feeder districts are low income, Nogal said.
Nogal displayed a copy of the legislation—hundreds of pages in length—during his presentation.
“There’s no logic. There’s no rhyme or reason,” said Nogal, whose district alone would lose $7 million in annual state aid.
The combined hit to budgets for District 230 and its feeder districts is estimated at $23 million, officials said.
The six state legislators who attended the forum expressed opposition to the bill.
“You’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th). “That’s what’s happening with this bill.”
“It is not what it’s touted to be,” added state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th).
State representatives Fran Hurley (D-35th) and Mary E. Flowers (D-31) along with state Sen. Michael Hastings (D-19th) also attended the forum and expressed opposition to the SB 16.
Wednesday’s two-hour forum featured a presentation by Robert Grossi, Bloom Township treasurer and president of Crystal Financial Consultants, which provides financial advisory services to school districts throughout the state.
Grossi’s presentation was packed with statistics and graphics that explained how the funding formula proposed in SB 16 would significantly harm many school districts in south suburbs but help other districts, especially those in downstate Illinois.
“We’re struggling. The state is struggling,” said Grossi, who called the legislation “a new crisis to address the existing crisis.”
Taxpayers and educators alike are concerned that proposed state legislation would result not only in the loss of millions of dollars in state aid to local public schools, but lead to cutbacks that include layoffs, and significant local property tax increases.
Debbie Chafee, a Hickory Hills resident and the founder of EDGE Illinois, an advocacy group opposed to the legislation, advised residents to take the legislation seriously.
“It’s a very real bill and could really happen,” said Chafee, the parent of two students in North Palos School District 117.
Chafee urged residents to contact legislators to express their opposition to the bill in a personal way.
“You really have to tell your school district’s story,” Chafee said. “Tell your story because on paper everybody looks the same. It is truly important. Spread the word. Talk to people about it.”
The bill, which passed the Illinois Senate in late May, is expected to be considered by the state House of Representatives as early as January, according to the bill’s opponents—although supporters have scoffed at that and pointed to the spring session of the General Assembly.
The bill’s principal sponsor is state Sen. Andy Manar, a freshman Democrat from Central Illinois elected in 2012, with support from the Illinois Education Association. A teacher by training, Manar is the former chief of staff to Sen. President John Cullerton.
Manar describes SB 16 on his website as “a proposal to streamline the current hodgepodge of funding sources into one funding formula that would account for school districts’ funding needs.”
Several Southwest Suburban schools would suffer losses, including approximately:
• $1.4 million each for Palos School District 118 and Worth School District 127
• $1.9 million for Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123
• $1.6 million for Alsip-Hazelgreen-Oak Lawn School District 126
• $839,000 for Oak Lawn Community High School District 229
• $839,000 for Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124
• $364,000 for Atwood Heights School District 125
• $330,000 for Chicago Ridge School District 127-S
• $312,000 for Evergreen Park Community High School District 231
High School District 218 would see an annual gain of about $934,000 in state aid under the proposed re-formulation, but Palos Heights School District 128 would lose about $574,000.