Education

Will your kid’s school have enough money to get through the year?

Local schools still affected by state budget issues

As Illinois leaders continue arguing about state funding for education, local educators are estimating how long they can operate without that money.
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As Illinois leaders continue arguing about state funding for education, local educators are estimating how long they can operate without that money.

In the week before the first state payment is due to schools, educators still don’t know how much, if any, funding they’ll receive.

The state’s spending plan includes money for schools but no mechanism for how to distribute it.

The General Assembly approved an “evidence-based” funding formula through Senate Bill 1, which supporters say would send new money to the neediest areas. The legislation was held for consideration until Monday, when it was sent to the governor’s desk.

Gov. Bruce Rauner used an amendatory veto Tuesday to send the bill back to the Legislature with some changes. He wants to cut back the amount of money sent to Chicago Public Schools.

Now, three-fifths of lawmakers in both chambers must either approve or override Rauner’s changes. If neither chamber can muster the votes, the legislation dies. The first payment to schools is due Aug. 10.

School leaders are left estimating how long they can operate without that money.

“I urge the General Assembly to act quickly to accept these changes and let our students start school on time,” Rauner said in a statement Tuesday.

Regional Superintendent Susan Sarfaty said the 27 school districts in St. Clair County would need to notify her if they wanted to make a change to their calendars — delaying the start of school, for example.

“They are looking at their budgets as we speak,” she said of local superintendents.

The decision depends on how much money schools have in reserves, how much they bring in from local property taxes and whether they think state funding for education will be resolved before they run out of money.

“There is not one answer” for any district in the state, Sarfaty said.

Cahokia District 187 Superintendent Art Ryan said school will open on time Aug. 14, but without state aid, the district could be out of money between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

District 187 relies on the state for about 60 percent of its revenue, which is among the highest dependence in the county. But Ryan said it has about $3 million in working cash plus property tax money to help the district through the first three months of the school year.

In Belleville District 118, Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the plan is for its schools to open Aug. 17, as expected. Without a solution in Springfield, District 118 could operate until the end of September or possibly the first couple weeks of October, according to Klosterman.

He expressed frustration at the lack of a decision so close to the start of the school year.

“It’s just not what should be on the minds of parents and folks who serve kids through schools,” Klosterman said.

Ryan said past funding crises in Illinois have made him “almost numb to this process.”

“This is my sixth year as superintendent, and I’ve yet to have a year where there wasn’t some sort of ‘What’s the funding going to be’ ‘We’re going to prorate’ ‘We’re going to cut’ ‘We’re going hold back this,’” Ryan said. “It’s just been going on forever.”

While educators have witnessed budget impasses before, Sarfaty said they haven’t faced the possibility of no general state aid like they do now. General state aid is based primarily on the local property wealth within each school district.

“We’ve not been at this point before,” Sarfaty said.

We will survive for as long as we can on local taxes.

Leigh Lewis, Triad District 2 superintendent

However, Ryan is optimistic that the lawmakers will come to a decision on school funding soon.

“I will be completely shocked if this little endeavor goes very long,” Ryan said. “It would not surprise me that our first state aid payment is late or delayed somewhat, but ... I just cannot believe that after increasing the taxes and doing everything that they’ve done to get the budget, that they’re going to then let school still close down because ‘We couldn’t get together to figure out how to send you the money.’

“It just seems like political suicide for both sides.”

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said he plans to support the governor’s amendatory veto. He previously voted against Senate Bill 1.

“It’s easy to side with the governor on this,” he said.

Meier blamed Democrats for delays because they held the bill in consideration. Bill sponsor state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, has said the reason for doing so was to “protect” the legislation from Rauner’s promised veto.

“We could have been doing this all summer long,” Meier said.

Educators in Madison County say they are disappointed with another stalemate in Springfield.

“They just continue putting this off,” said Jim Greenwald, superintendent of Granite City District 9. He said if the “categorical” payments for transportation and special education come in, it will mean as much as $3 million. But District 9 expects $24 million in state appropriations, which is a large portion of the district’s budget, he said.

School districts are dependent on the state and property taxes for their funding, he said.

“We’re not panicking, just playing the waiting game,” Greenwald said. “We are going to be able to be in decent shape into the spring, but we don’t want to push it to that.”

Collinsville Unit 10 likewise can open and stay open maybe until Christmas, but Superintendent Robert Green said it would require spending down the working cash fund with no guarantee that the money would ever be repaid.

While state report cards list Collinsville’s budget comprised of approximately 35 percent from state funds, Green said it would be between 45 and 50 percent if they were ever fully funded under the state formula.

“We’ve been watching and hoping that everything would work itself out, but I’ve been prepping the board for the worst-case scenario,” Green said. The district has its local tax dollars from Madison and St. Clair counties, but in the end, “the state’s going to have to come through,” Green said.

It’s just not what should be on the minds of parents and folks who serve kids through schools.

Matt Klosterman, Belleville District 118 superintendent

Triad District 2 Superintendent Leigh Lewis also said they would be 40 percent state-funded “if we were fully funded, and that hasn’t happened for a while,” Lewis said.

The veto and subsequent delay of payments will have “a major effect” on Triad’s cash flow, Lewis said. They will be able to open but are not assure of being able to stay open through the fall semester without any money from the state.

“We have health insurance, power bills and other things that have to be paid and can’t be put off,” Lewis said. “We will survive for as long as we can on local taxes.”

Lewis said it has been frustrating to try to focus on education with so much uncertainty in Springfield. “Everything politically has been aggravating and disappointing,” she said. “We have seniors getting ready for their last year; we have federal and state mandates that we have to fulfill ... It’s disappointing that we are in this predicament, and they can’t agree or compromise on this. They raised the taxes, and they have the money.”

Lewis said the district workers want to focus on educating the students and keeping them safe, and instead will be spending their time and energy making worst-case-scenario plans for how to survive without funding.

“It’s just another thing that’s going to derail us, going through how we will have to do business differently until they get their act together,” Lewis said. “Look at all the time wasted by educators, and the worry and anxiety for the parents ... It’s political, and they’re selfish and not doing their job.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes; Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

At a glance

According to a news release from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office, the governor’s amendatory veto makes the following changes to Senate Bill 1:

  • Maintains a per-district hold harmless until the 2020-2021 school year, and then moves to a per-pupil hold harmless based on a three-year rolling average of enrollment.
  • Removes the minimum funding requirement.
  • Removes the Chicago block grant from the funding formula.
  • Removes both Chicago Public Schools pension considerations from the formula: the normal cost pick-up and the unfunded liability deduction.
  • Reintegrates the normal cost pick-up for Chicago Public Schools into the Pension Code and begins to treat Chicago like all other districts in the state’s relationship with its teachers’ pensions.
  • Eliminates the PTELL and TIF equalized assessed value subsidies.
  • Removes the escalators throughout the bill.
  • Retains the floor for the regionalization factor and adds a cap.
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