Funding reform is a mixed bag for suburban districts

Suzanne Baker
sbaker@stmedianetwork.com
May 25 12:15 p.m.

For Illinois school districts, all eyes are on Springfield as legislators try to hash out a budget before May 31.

Last-minute jockeying has many districts like Indian Prairie School District 204 watching and waiting.

Jay Strang, District 204 assistant superintendent of business, said finalizing the district’s budget becomes a challenge because it is difficult to forecast revenues from the state because “Springfield is chaotic.”

“By state statute, they have until May 31,” Strang said. “It’s a waiting game… this is how we function in the state.”

With all energy in Springfield directed toward working out the budget before the May 31 deadline, a plan to reform the state’s education funding system likely will be put off until the fall as school districts weigh whether to support the measure or oppose it.

Introduced in April by state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, along with state Sen. Michael Noland, D–Elgin, and senators from Chicago, Grayslake and Peoria, the legislation is the product of an Education Funding Advisory Committee, which was charged with proposing a better way to fund the education system.

Senate Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 16, known as the School Funding Reform Act of 2014, creates a formula that is to provide an equitable means to distribute education funds to Illinois school districts. Districts would receive a basic level based on the value of property in the district and additional funding would be provided for: low income students; English language learners; special and gifted education; summer school; special education, vocational and regular transportation; Career Pathways career development programs; and students taking AP/dual credit courses.

The reform would be a boon for school districts like Aurora West 129, Aurora East 131, Elgin U46 and Carpentersville District 300.

According to May 6 figures provided by the Illinois State Board of Education, Aurora 129 and 131 could see a gain in state aid of $12,258,850 and $15,828,563, respectively. For Elgin U46 and District 300, ISBE figures show increases in aid of $25.3 million and $2 million, respectively.

School districts like Indian Prairie 204, Naperville 203, Yorkville 115 and districts in Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles come up on the short end of the stick.

Indian Prairie would lose $9.6 million and Naperville 203 would lose $9.4 million, based on ISBE calculations. Also decreased revenues could total $1.3 million for Yorkville 115, nearly $4 million for Batavia 101 and Geneva 304, and nearly $8 million for St. Charles 303.

Small districts like Central District 301 and Hinkley-Big Rock 429 could lose upwards of 85 percent of their state funding levels. ISBE figures show District 301, which received $3.2 million in state aid in 2013, would only get $813,202 under the reform while District 429, which received $861,415 in 2013, would get $126,242.

District like Oswego 308 would see only a slight decrease of $151,869, according to the ISBE figures.

While most districts are holding off taking a stand, the numbers are particularly troublesome to Indian Prairie School District 204 leaders who estimate the $9.6 million loss roughly equates to 170 staff members.

Both Indian Prairie School Board members Michael Raczak and Benjamin White said the funding issue might encourage school districts to expand student eligibility into programs that would generate revenue.

White said he would not want to push kids into programs that they didn’t need, and Raczak warned such a move would not be considered best practices for a district.

To get the 2014 budget process moving in District 204, Strang is forecasting spending totals of $301.5 million with revenues of $299.6 million. Figures will be adjusted up or down, depending on how much is allocated in the state’s budget.

Of the anticipated $299.6 million in revenues, the majority, about $249.7 million, comes from local property taxes and $10 million from federal aid. The remaining $39.8 million is what Strang is counting on the state to provide, which is slightly higher than the $38.8 million received in 2013.

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