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posted: 4/27/2010 12:01 AM

A cry for school funding fix in District U-46

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  • Nature Ridge kindergarten teacher Julie Allaway, one of 20 teachers who received pink slips recently at the school, addresses the crowd at the education funding rally Monday at South Elgin High School. Other supporters in the background hold mock pink slips with the names of state legislators on them.

       Nature Ridge kindergarten teacher Julie Allaway, one of 20 teachers who received pink slips recently at the school, addresses the crowd at the education funding rally Monday at South Elgin High School. Other supporters in the background hold mock pink slips with the names of state legislators on them.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

 
By Kerry Lester

Nora Stueck was a little too young to understand exactly what the bright pink "RIF Ramey" sign she was holding meant.

The 6-year-old Nature Ridge kindergartner simply chose it because it was her favorite color.

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But Nora's mother, Carrie, and grandmother, Eunice Goceck, didn't mince words as they stood in the South Elgin High parking lot Monday afternoon, waiting for a school funding rally to begin.

"It's ridiculous," Goceck, of Addison, said of legislators' inaction. "We should take away their pensions. We elected them to do a job, and they're failing us."

Nature Ridge, is set to lose nearly half its teaching staff next year as part of budget cuts. Class sizes will skyrocket and kindergarten art, music, and gym classes have been eliminated.

The 4 p.m. rally, organized by Nature Ridge parent Bev Jaszczurowski, was one of two Fox Valley events Monday focused on finding a solution to the state's budget mess.

State Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, sponsored a 7 p.m. town hall meeting at the Centre of Elgin on pending legislation that would raise both individual and corporate income tax rates. State Sens. Terry Link, a Lake Bluff Democrat and the Rev. James Meeks, a Chicago Independent, along with Center for Budget and Tax Accountability Director Ralph Martire participated.

U-46 is dependent on the state for 32 percent of its funding. Expecting a 17 percent decrease in state funding if Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget passes, U-46 in mid-march announced $30 million in cuts, including 1,100 employees.

Along with the Stuecks, roughly 100 teachers, parents and students turned out to the South Elgin rally.

Jaszczurowski, said she was inspired to organize it after writing letters to legislators about the school crisis and getting no response.

"They get the podium all the time," she said. "It's our turn."

South Elgin Principal Melanie Meidel, who served as the rally's host, spoke of the "horrific RIFing" - the education world's term for layoffs. Of the 732 U-46 teachers losing their jobs, 80 are from South Elgin High. Meidel said the district must now set about rebuilding its culture.

"We will remember come November," Jaszczurowski said of local legislators' inaction. "We'll make sure you get your RIF notices."

State Rep. Randy Ramey, a West Chicago Republican, was in attendance. Ramey said the signs demanding his removal didn't bother him.

"They're obviously upset. ... But they have to understand what the situation is. And who's in control (down state)."

Similar to the South Elgin rally, about 100 individuals turned out for the 7 p.m. town hall meeting. Among those in attendance were Judson University President Jerry Cain, Elgin Community College President David Sam, state Rep. Keith Farnham, an Elgin Democrat, and Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig.

The tax increase legislation, which has sat in a House rules committee since August, would raise the income tax rate for individuals, trusts and estates from 3 to 5 percent, and the corporate income tax rate from 4.8 percent to 5 percent. The property tax credit would double to 10 percent. Noland told attendees the bill was "close to passage."

Martire said the bill will provide $5 billion in new revenue, with $2.5 billion going to education over time. Attendees largely had questions about how their property tax bills might be affected by the law, and how schools would benefit.

"The fiscal problems and economic problems we have are long term and structural. Without long-term and structural changes, they will not improve," he said."... We borrow against the pensions and try to cobble together what we owe, it's caught up to us. To try to go across the state and explain why new taxes are needed, that's not fun."

Meeks, the legislation's sponsor, told the crowd that he "knows the economy is bad. I know this is the worst time ever to ask for an income tax increase," he said. "I just think we need to fix it. We need to fix it once and for all. ... You need people. People you can trust in government. And if you can't trust them, then vote them out."

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