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Local school district officials concerned about future funding

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Senate Bill 1, the education funding bill currently being haggled over in Springfield, is getting mixed reviews from the leaders of local school districts.

Local districts depend primarily on property taxes rather than state funding to balance their budgets, and have money in reserve, so they will open on time, even with the delay in passing the education funding bill. The Senate overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of SB1 on Sunday, which would have made some changes to the funding formula. But even if the House is able to get the four Republican votes needed to override the veto and pass SB1 in its original form this week, several local superintendents said the bill, at best, won’t hurt their districts this year.

Dr. Robert Machak, superintendent of Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124, said SB1 “does not work” for his district. He said the bill’s ‘hold harmless’ clause, which ensures no school district will see a decrease in funding this year, leads to a drastic decrease in the amount of funds available for the new “evidence-based” formula.

The superintendent, who oversees all four public elementary schools and one middle school in Evergreen Park, said that “Rather than providing the promised funding that meets the needs of our students, the bill penalizes the district for depending on property taxes that are well above the state average as its main source of revenue. This legislation does not take into account the costs involved in programming for English language learners, children with special needs, gifted education or any other situation that requires the district to spend additional funds to ensure that each and every student is receiving the quality education that they deserve.”

Machak noted that the intent of the original bill was to find a more equitable way to fund schools across the state and shift the majority of the burden for doing so away from district property taxes. But, he said, “There is no relief for the taxpayers of Evergreen Park in the legislation's current form and, if there were, our legislators are at a loss to explain from where the money to run our school district would otherwise come."

Business manager Tim Kostecki said, “The reserves of Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124 will allow us to keep our doors open and continue to educate our students despite the absence of General State Aid payments. With that being said, the district may be forced into a problematic position of dipping into those reserves to cover our expenses until future payments are made by the state.”

High school districts are facing the same issues.

“We are for fair and equitable funding for all schools, and it is the Legislature’s responsibility to provide funding for public education,” said Dr. James Gay, superintendent of School District 230, who was asked about SB1 a few weeks ago, before Rauner’s amendatory veto. His district includes Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew high schools.

“The important thing to us is that the funding bill in its current form would have no negative impact on our district this year. It is a ‘holds-harmless’ type of language,” said John Lavelle, assistant superintendent for business services for District 230. But he added that he is concerned with how the bill would affect funding in future years is still unclear.

“The concern is that to make sure that no district would lose any funding,” said Gay. “We totally agree with that overall. There is just not enough state funding to go around. The main point is not to take money away from any district.”