Pekin Daily Times

Preparing for a lean year

Thursday, August 19, 2010

PEKIN, Ill. — Watching state funding for education in Illinois is almost like watching a slapstick comedy.
School officials have watched the governor, the comptroller and the Illinois State Board of Education run here and there saying this and that and never providing a good answer.

“It’s been a fluid thing,” said Pekin District 108 Finance Director Glayn Worrell of the current state funding reports prior to the board meeting. “We hear something almost every day.

“You know what happens — the governor makes a statement, then the comptroller makes a statement, then the state board of ed makes its interpretation of the prior statements.”

“And then about a week later you get you get something from the state board of ed clarifying what everything really means and what effect it has on your school district,” said Superintendent Bill Link at an interview Monday afternoon.

“It’s kind of a schizophrenic process,” said Worrell.
“That’s true,” said Link.

But the slapstick behavior of state government isn’t funny, as school districts around the state have been notified that their transportation reimbursements will be cut by 42 percent in fiscal year 2011, or $455,984.

The state has been late with those payments, often holding them until the next year. The late payments were an inconvenience, but the district had the money to pay the transportation bill and wait for the state payment to reimburse the reserves. In FY 2011, the state will not reimburse any of the funding that is now cut, said Link.

The district is mandated by state law to provide transportation to all students who live 1.5 miles or more from their school. District 108 has about 3,800 students and the bulk of them fall into the transportation group, said Link.

Board member Rich Root asked Worrell at the meeting, “What’s the rationale behind that? That’s one of the primary functions of a school district.”

Worrell said there were limited funds available. He said he didn’t know the rationale.

“I don’t know if they put the programs on a board and threw darts or what,” said Worrell.

“And the state’s supposed to pay for 50 percent of education — by law, by the Constitution,” said Root.

Other cuts in state funding to District 108 include the elimination of the Reading Improvement block grant, $159,789; an Americans with Disabilities block grant, $30,152; and a Title 1 reading grant, $93,046.

Link said he hopes there will be help from the federal government by Sept. 27 when the school board has to approve it and then submit it to the state board.

“We’re sitting tight and waiting to get some information on what the federal Education Job Bill is going to mean for us,” said Link.

“How the state is going to pass that money along still remains to be seen,” said Worrell. “But they’re talking strongly about boosting state aid with that money, or at least supporting state aid.”

The tentative FY 2011 budget was presented Monday at the monthly board meeting and will be open for public view for the next 30 days before the board votes on it.

In FY 2011, the district expects revenues of $33,955,536. It expects to spend $33,751,556, which, if all funds are received as expected, will mean a $203,980 surplus.

The district reduced costs through employee attrition. Some teachers were not replaced when they left. Link has noted previously that bringing in entry-level teachers when a long-term teacher leaves helps reduce costs.

Link said Monday afternoon that the district may once again have to put off any major building projects, such as the planned installation of air conditioning at C.B. Smith and L.E. Stark elementary schools and Edison Junior High School. There will be a reduction in technology spending and new book purchases.

Root asked if the district could look at bonds to finish air conditioning at the three schools. He said it is not fair that some students have that comfort in the district and others don’t.

Worrell said that the district’s bonded indebtedness will be paid off next year. It would be possible to restructure the bonds now or get new bonds, depending on what the state finances look like when the time comes.

Worrell added that the district is under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, which limits the amount a district can raise its extension to 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. He said it is important to remember that money needs to be available for mandated life safety projects.

The state still owes the district $1.5 million in payments from FY 2010 school year.