Northwest Herald

Districts wary of federal funding

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Huntley District 158 soon could get $1.1 million from the federal government.

Carpentersville-based District 300 could get $1 million. And Crystal Lake District 155 could get $868,929.36.
But, the key word is “could.”

The Illinois State Board of Education has offered estimates for how much school districts could receive from the federal jobs bill that President Obama signed Aug. 13.

The legislation allocated $10 billion to school districts across the country to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers aren’t let go.

All told, Illinois hopes to receive about $415 million. Larger McHenry County districts, such as District 158, could get more than $1 million. On the other end of the spectrum, smaller districts, such as Alden-Hebron District 19 –which stands to receive $21,027.69 – could get far less.

Even with specific figures, districts are skeptical that the money will materialize.

“We have taken a very conservative position so far,” said Allison Strupek, District 300 spokeswoman. “Until it’s in our hands, we’re not going to spend it.”

That sentiment was echoed in District 158.

“We’re extremely cautious,” said Mark Altmayer, chief financial officer for the Huntley district. “We’re not counting on that revenue.”

And District 26, which could get about $287,368, was on the same wavelength.

“We can’t count on that money until it’s in the bank,” said T. Ferrier, finance and operations director for the Cary district.

As schools wait to see the cash before they spend it, what the money will go toward remains undecided.

Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said districts could begin to have access to the funds in the next few weeks. He added that the money had to be used for salary and benefits.

It’s unlikely that districts would use it to rehire teachers laid off last spring for budget cuts, though. The staff cuts led to larger class sizes in districts such as District 26 and District 300.

“The longer the school year goes on, the more problematic it becomes to split a classroom,” Strupek said. “We’re getting to a point where that’s not the best option for students.”

She added that in her district, the school board would have to decide what the funds would go to once it received the money.

Altmayer wouldn’t speculate on what the money would go to in his district, either.

“I can’t say because I don’t know if there’s any stipulations attached to it from the state of Illinois,” he said.

District 26 board President Chris Spoerl said during a recent board meeting that he wouldn’t be surprised if Illinois just used the money to make state payments it already had promised to districts.

That was what happened last year when the state used stimulus money to make previously promised general state aid payments.

Vanover doesn’t think that would be the case this time, though.

“This is different because that essentially was [meant] to stabilize the state’s fiscal situation,” he said.

No matter what the money goes to, it likely will end up offsetting state funding problems; many schools made cuts with the idea that state funding would come up short this year.

“Certainly, districts are facing a difficult financial period right now,” Vanover said. “This infusion ... will certainly help.”

Districts’ share of cash

The federal government recently approved a Federal Jobs Stimulus bill, and part of the money is slated to go to school districts, which can use it to hire teachers or building staff. Below is a list of the amount the Illinois State Board of Education estimates that each district will receive in McHenry County. However, it remains unclear when and if the districts will receive the funds.*

District Name / Forecasted Federal Jobs Stimulus Grant Award

Huntley District 158 / $1,160,787.70

Carpentersville District 300 / $1,071,127.25

Crystal Lake District 155 / $868,929.36

Woodstock District 200 / $499,405.24

Crystal Lake District 47 / $475,371.35

Harvard District 50 / $449,209.33

Johnsburg District 12 / $341,056.28

Cary District 26 / $287,368.29

McHenry District 15 / $217,214.08

McHenry District 156 / $161,416.04

Nippersink District 2 / $63,487.09

Marengo-Union District 165 / $59,308.59

Marengo District 154 / $56,956.85

Richmond-Burton District 157 / $43,969.31

Prairie Grove District 46 / $38,163.62

Harrison District 36 / $25,424.93

Fox River Grove District 3 / $22,652.01

Alden-Hebron District 19 / $21,027.69

*Riley District 18 receives flat grant state funding, so it is unclear how much the district would receive from this grant.

Source: Illinois State Board of Education