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October 10, 2014

Superintendents in Franklin Park and Northlake are concerned that a bill in the general assembly will shift big bucks away from their school districts.

Senate Bill 16 was approved by the state Senate on May 27 and introduced to the House the next day. It has since remained in the rules committee.

The bill aims for equity in state funding of school districts. Its method is to shift money to lower-income districts from comparatively higher-income districts.

Leyden High School District 212 Superintendent Nick Polyak said the bill would remove $3.2 million or 85 percent of the state funds the district receives.

“It would force us to have some difficult discussions on where to make up the money,” Polyak said.  “Services, staffing, programs, capital projects, upkeep of buildings.”

At Mannheim Elementary District 83, SB16 would mean a loss of about $2.4 million from the yearly budget, said Superintendent Kim Petrasek.

If the bill is approved, Petrasek said the district would look at reducing sports, clubs, band and orchestra and other activities.

“You don’t want to impact the actual learning environment,” Petrasek said, adding that $2.4 million couldn’t easily be replaced.

“You can complete federal grants,” Petrasek said. “Grants are for specific things. We started the Mannheim Educational Foundation. That’s not anywhere near $1 million.”

At Franklin Park Elementary District 84, Superintendent David Katzin said they could lose $1.9 million.

“That’s about 30 teachers salaries and benefits,” Katzin said. “We have a strong fund (savings) right now to weather the storm but it’s not a permanent solution.”

State Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-77th of Addison, does not support SB16 in its current form.

“Having winners and losers like this bill, it pits school districts against school districts,” Willis said. “I’m looking for us to continue the conversation, work with school districts and find a better alternative.”

Ralph Matire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said first the state has to get its own financial affairs in order. The center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank based in Chicago.

“Some of the poorest school districts would gain but at the expense of slightly less poor districts,” Martire said. “None of the lower-income to lower-middle-income communities can afford to lose it.”

To make school funding equitable requires the state investing more money in schools, about $4.5 billion.

“With education we have tons of data,” Martire said. “We know what it actually cost to educate children. We’re just not spending it in Illinois. No tinkering with the (school funding) formula will impact results.”

And to increase the amount of money for schools would require tax reform at the state level, Martire said.

“A lot of people are pointing at school systems to be accountable but no one is talking about the (state) fiscal system,” Martire said.

Source: Pioneer Press