Illinois lawmakers and Governor Bruce Rauner have agreed to restore about $97 million that had been cut from K-12 schools for the final few months of the fiscal year. The cuts resulted from the rollback of the temporary higher income tax rate and a 2.25% across the board reduction to the state's budget. Some school districts in west central Illinois will benefit, but it might not make much difference.
The Illinois State Board of Education advised lawmakers to help school districts that are in greatest financial need and deemed to likely face financial crisis due to a funding cut.
Galesburg schools will now lose $98,853 instead of the originally proposed $375,043.
“They’re making it sound like that’s a gift to us when in actuality, it’s further than what we had in the original budget,” said Superintendent Bart Arthur.
Arthur said he appreciates the state assistance but the district is still losing money and if funding cuts continue Galesburg will be on the brink of financial crisis.
“We had reserves; we were well positioned about four years ago. And ever since the state started doing proration and the federal government cut back when they had sequestration funds. Yeah, we are at a point now where we probably have about three years left of operating money and then we will have to probably look at doing something different, close our doors,” Arthur said.
An alternative option would be to raise property taxes as a way to increase revenue. But Arthur believes that would be difficult to get past the public for approval.
Arthur said the district has cut about $5 million out of the budget over the last several years and he’s unsure where further cuts could come from.
“If they want to say sports and fine arts and things like that are the fat then I guess, yeah, we can cut the fat, but I believe those things are very valuable to kids,” Arthur said.
“For many kids, those are the things that keep them engaged in school and keep coming. If we have to make those cuts then we aren’t doing a good job educationally and that is very frustrating.”
Arthur said Galesburg schools don’t receive the full $6,119 per pupil funding level set by the state. Instead, it’s closer to about $5,057 per pupil. He said Galesburg Schools are operating on a $2.1 million deficit.
Arthur will retire this summer. The Galesburg School District has hired Ralph Grimm to take over as superintendent.
The Monmouth-Roseville School District was on track to lose $164,359 before the state stepped in. The district will instead be down $43,321 for the last few months of this fiscal year which is about what it costs to pay one full-time teacher’s salary and benefits.
“I guess its kind of counter-intuitive that we are happy to only lose $43,000. But at the same time I’m really hoping that our legislators find a fix to this budget issue and that they are able to fully fund education in the state of Illinois,” said Superintendent Ed Fletcher.
Fletcher said the district also needs to find alternative forms of revenue because it cannot cut enough to keep up with reductions in state aid.
“I think at this stage, our Board of Education feels very strongly that what we are offering, we are going to continue to offer, and we would issue working cash bonds to provide a quality education to the kids,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the district has the power to issue working cash bonds to cover day to day expenses. Taxpayers would ultimately be responsible to pay them back. There was a public hearing on this issue in April of 2013.
“I could see the issues we were dealing with in regards to the revenue level from the state were going to continue,” Fletcher said. “I was just putting Plan B in motion in case we needed it.”
Residents of Monmouth-Roseville last fall voted against a tax increase to increase funding for the district. Fletcher said the district’s education fund is running about a $220,000 deficit.
Fletcher said changing Illinois’ school funding formula could benefit his district. As it stands now, he said there are districts that are clear winners and those that lose out.
“The people who are winners right now who would be loser under (Senate Bill 1) are going to find it very hard to keep the money coming into their district. I’m assuming they don’t want to be in the same positions that the districts who are losers are currently -- meaning that we’ve had to make cuts. We’ve had to have really tough decisions and make every single dollar stretch a lot farther than they have to at this time.”
Fletcher said he is cautiously optimistic that more money will be coming down for next year because Governor Bruce Rauner vowed to make funding K-12 education a priority.
Macomb was one of the school districts in the region that did not qualify for a break from the state. Instead, the district will lose $122,096. Superintendent Patrick Twomey said he’s glad Macomb is not considered to be in bad financial shape.
“If there is any good news it’s that we aren’t on that particular list,” Twomey said.
Twomey said Macomb made some significant reductions to build up some reserve funding to help in difficult times.
“The problem with schools, some of us are so dependent on state support but during these times of state financial difficulties that support has really become unstable and unpredictable,” Twomey said.
And he said when state funding cuts come toward the end of the fiscal year it's even more difficult to budget because it’s after the deadline to layoff teachers. “Here we are at the end of the fiscal year and they [the state] just say nope you’re not getting that money,” Twomey said.
The state also reduced the funding cut for the last few months this year for other school districts across the region including:
- Beardstown - loss of $47,679 instead of $180,000
- Brown County - loss of $14,594 instead of $55,370
- Bushnell-Prairie City - loss of $19,769 instead of $75,001
- Hamilton - loss of $9,129 instead of $34,631
- Illini West - loss of $7,446 instead of 28,251
- Nauvoo-Colusa - loss of $3,077 instead of $11,673
- Schulyer-Industry - loss of $25,278 instead of $95,905
- Southeastern - loss of $12,742 instead of $48,342
- Warsaw - loss of $9,325 instead of $35,379
- West Prairie - Loss of $10,543 instead of $40,000