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Local school officials predict no negative impact from SB1 this year

        Senate Bill 1, the education funding bill currently being haggled over in Springfield, is getting mixed reviews from the leaders of local school districts.

Local districts depend primarily on property taxes rather than state funding to balance their budgets, and have money in reserve. So, they will open on time, even with the delay in passage of the education funding bill. The Senate overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of SB1, which would make changes to the funding formula. But even if the House is able to get the four Republican votes needed to override the veto and pass SB1 in its original form this week, several local superintendents said the bill would not help their districts much. The best thing they could say was that it would not hurt them, either. Not this year, anyway.

“No school funding reform bill in the last decade has benefited Palos 118, including Senate Bill 1,” said Dr. Anthony M. Scarsella, superintendent of Palos School District 118, when asked about it this week.

His district includes Palos South Middle School and Palos West Elementary School in Palos Park, and Palos East Elementary in Palos Heights.

“In fact, most funding reform measures debated before the General Assembly actually reduced the few state dollars our schools receive. What Senate Bill 1 does include is a hold-harmless provision that would freeze our state aid at current levels.  That’s about as good as we can hope for in our area. Both the original version of the bill and the governor’s amendatory veto have the same impact on Palos 118.

          “Thanks to our board’s prudent financial management, regardless of what happens with Senate Bill 1, our schools will open on time and remain open during the impasse. Our school board had the foresight to save when it was able, so if a financial crisis hit, the school district could continue to operate using cash reserves. That financial crisis is now and that’s exactly what we will do,” said the superintendent.

          “Our hearts go out to those school districts reliant on state dollars to open and remain open.  Palos 118 stands ready to assist them in any way we can.  We urge our elected leaders to stop using school children as political pawns and do the job they were elected to do by adequately and equitably funding public schools,” Scarsella added.

Dr. Dawn Green, superintendent of Palos Heights School District 128, said that while her district is not as dependent on state funding as many other districts, it did feel the pinch caused by the lack of a state budget last year.

“We are not very reliant on state funding, we still get around nine percent of our total revenue from the state,” said Green, whose district includes Navaho Heights and Indian Hill schools, Chippewa Elementary School, and Independence Junior High.

“It affected us last year by giving us fewer payments than we were owed, so that we received less money from the state than we anticipated in our budget.  I am unsure about when these payments will be made up or when the ones we are supposed to get for this year will start. They are already so behind from last year. It does force us to more closely evaluate our expenditures and even put things on hold, depending upon the timing of the revenue coming in. It is something that we are constantly monitoring.”

          Green said the state’s education funding situation creates the need to place “a greater reliance on local revenue from property taxes as well as other local revenue through organizations such as parent faculty association and local grant funding. Unfortunately, school districts who are far more reliant on state funding, are impacted at an even greater degree.”

          The situation in Springfield is being closely watched by leaders of high school districts as well.

“We are for fair and equitable funding for all schools, and it is the Legislature’s responsibility to provide funding for public education,” said Dr. James Gay, superintendent of School District 230, when asked about SB1 a few weeks ago, before Rauner’s amendatory veto. His district includes Stagg High School in Palos Hills, Sandburg High School in Orland Park and Andrew High School in Tinley Park.

“The important thing to us is that the funding bill in its current form, would have no negative impact on our district this year. It is a ‘holds-harmless’ type of language,” said John Lavelle, assistant superintendent for business services for District 230. But he added that, how the bill would affect funding in future years is still unclear.

“The concern is that to make sure that no district would lose any funding,” said Gay. “We totally agree that overall, there is just not enough state funding to go around. The main point is not to take money away from any district.”

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