Local schools are being forced to adjust to the grim reality of reduced funding if the Illinois Legislature doesn’t create a budget.
Schools across the state are about to make difficult decisions as 401 districts would have fewer than 180 days of cash on hand, as put forward in the 2017 School District Budget Plans submitted in fall 2016. Even more dire, 144 districts would have less than 90 days of cash on hand, according to Jackie Matthews, director of media and external communications for the Illinois State Board of Education.
“I want to be forthright and transparent about what the current state budget impasse means for education funding as we approach the close of fiscal year 2017,” ISBE State Superintendent Tony Smith wrote in a recent weekly message. “ISBE has no authority to distribute any state or federal funding for fiscal year 2018 without an enacted state budget. ISBE can voucher scheduled payments for fiscal year 2017 state and federal grants through Aug. 31, 2017.”
According to a tweet posted by Gov. Bruce Rauner on June 29, he plans on having the General Assembly stay in place until a budget is passed. An income tax increase was approved by the House and the Senate, then vetoed by Rauner on July 4. The Senate overrode the veto shortly after. The plan still needs to be approved by the House in order to pass into law.
State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, said in a phone interview that the situation is frustrating.
“[Education] is one of the reasons why we need to stay here even if it means staying through the holiday,” McConnaughay said. “We must make arrangements so that school opens in the fall. We must make sure that schools can open. Something needs to happen by the end of July.”
When asked if there was anything that could be done for the state’s schools if the budget deal falls apart, McConnaughay reinforced her view that there needs to be a focus on putting together a full budget.
“I think the minute we stop focusing on a complete budget, we are doing a disservice by doing that,” McConnaughay said. “We are putting pressure [for] a complete, responsibly balanced budget. Education is a part of that. Is there something that can be done if not reached? Probably. But most people in this building are not ready to go to that level.”
Meanwhile, some schools are preparing to deal with the fallout. Todd Leden, superintendent for Kaneland School District 302, and the school board recently reduced funding with a tentative district-wide budget plan.
“We have a budget deficit of $3.1 million as identified,” Leden said. “We anticipated what percent we needed to reduce to meet our goal. … Buses, capital projects, technology, curriculum and building supply projects – we looked at all of those. Rather than fully fund, we’ve reduced them by varying degrees to come out with $1.5 million in savings for next year.”
Former St. Charles School District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann, who retired June 30, remarked that the lack of a budget doesn’t directly affect District 303. Although if a property tax freeze goes through, District 303 will be affected. A property tax freeze has been sought by Rauner.
“Our school board did a really good job of trying to lower our property taxes,” Schlomann said. “We are the lowest on property taxes in Kane County of the nine school districts. Having a freeze on that seems to penalize us for being frugal in the past.”
Parents in Kane County also have their concerns.
“As a parent of school-aged children and a lifelong Illinois resident, it is disappointing to see the state of Illinois being stuck in this very difficult budget situation,” said Jeanne McGowan, parent and Geneva 4th Ward alderman. “I am hopeful that some type of agreement can be reached ... so that agencies that rely on state funding can continue their operations without having to further cut essential services. This should be a concern of every Illinois resident, not just parents.”