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posted: 5/15/2010 12:01 AM

DuPage school districts await release of grant money

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The superintendents of three DuPage County school districts say they are pleased that Illinois is finally delivering long-overdue school construction dollars.

But only one of the superintendents could say how her Villa Park-based district is planning to spend the grant money it's been waiting eight years to receive.

Meanwhile, William Shields, superintendent of Carol Stream Elementary District 93, said his district might no longer be able to accept $1.6 million in promised grant money because the project it was meant for never materialized.

"I don't want to sound negative, but we weren't sure the funds were going to come after so many years," Shields said. "So we weren't counting on it."

Shields' comments came a day after state officials announced they're releasing nearly $149 million to 24 school districts around the state.

Three of them - District 93, Winfield Elementary District 34 and Villa Park Elementary District 45 - have been waiting to receive a combined $4.9 million.

"We're very happy," District 34 Superintendent Gwynne Kell said. "But the (school) board is a little skeptical because they've been down this path before."

Unlike previous times when the funding was withheld at the last minute. Kell said a confirmation letter has district officials "very hopeful" the money will be sent once paperwork is completed.

District 34 is awaiting $2.3 million that the state was supposed to chip in for a renovation plan that included classroom additions and extensive interior renovations to its former middle school.

Voters approved funding for the $9 million project in 2002. Local taxpayers ended up covering the state's share when the school board voted in July 2005 to borrow $1.7 to help pay off the renovations of its schools and to build a nest egg against emergency repair projects.

When the state money arrives, it will be up to school board members to decide whether to keep it in the district's general fund or abate it back to the community.

Kell points out that District 34 has "a lot of facility issues that are ongoing." A committee is in the process of examining the district's current and future building needs.

"I think all options will be considered by the board," she said.

Meanwhile in Villa Park, District 45 officials already know what they are going to do with the $980,000 the state promised them in 2002.

Superintendent Janice M. Rosales said the district was made aware that the money would be coming this year. So officials included the amount in the district's operating fund.

"It will ensure that we do not have a shortfall in our budget this year because we budgeted that amount of money for operations," Rosales said.

District 45 was awarded the construction grant money to help pay for more than $4.4 million in renovations. That project included adding new classroom space to both Ardmore and Stevenson elementary schools.

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