School financial results don't add up

March 13, 2014 

East St. Louis School District 189 Superintendent Art Culver recently made the point: "Achieving equity and excellence for students academically should not be dictated by their ZIP code." That applies to school funding, also.

But what does it say when school districts within the same ZIP code have dramatically different financial results?

O'Fallon High School District 203 and Central School District 104 get high marks for their finances in a new state ranking but O'Fallon District 90 is on the state's financial watch list, the lowest category.

In Fairview Heights, Grant School District 110 is threatening to dissolve if a major property tax increase isn't approved by voters on Tuesday while adjacent Pontiac School District 105 is the picture of financial health.

In Swansea, High Mount School District 116 is on the state's early warning list while Wolf Branch District 113 is in among the strongest districts financially.

Some of the differences might be explained by leadership, but the issue can also be is location, location, location. Pontiac, for example, has St. Clair Square as part of its tax base; Grant does not.

The dramatically different fiscal results help make the case for consolidation. The need to consolidate into fewer, more cost-efficient districts will become even greater as state funding continues to shrink.

Even though a third of all students are in financially struggling districts, state lawmakers are considering spending $1 billion less on K-12 education next fiscal year. If there's one lesson school leaders should have learned the past few years, it's that Illinois can't be counted on to keep it funding promises or make education a priority. Local district leaders need to plan accordingly.

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