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updated: 11/9/2010 7:20 PM

In the 43rd District, negative mailers did some good after all

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It looks as if all those negative mailers in the 43rd District state House race served some useful purpose after all.

During the campaign, incumbent Democrat Keith Farnham accused Republican opponent Ruth Munson of not doing anything to address a state aid issue with Elgin schools even though hardly anyone knew about the issue when Munson was in office.

Munson and the state Republican party accused Farnham of not lifting a finger to get a bill that would have addressed the issue signed into law even though phone records and Gov. Pat Quinn's former chief of staff say otherwise.

The truth is, few people were even aware of the issue (which arises in school districts that overlap county lines) until Huntley Unit District 158 board member and certified public accountant Tony Quagliano started crunching numbers and discovered Huntley schools, Elgin schools and perhaps other districts as well could be losing millions of dollars each year because of the glitch.

But bending the truth is nothing new to politics, and unlike myself, no campaign operatives or party hatchet men have to worry about losing their jobs for spreading blatant inaccuracies.

In fact, they might even get a raise.

But while those mailers, replete with are-you-kidding-me digitally altered images of the candidates, might have poisoned the political climate in the 43rd District, they helped draw attention to a continuing issue with the formula that determines how much state aid a school district receives.

School districts argue that formula is flawed because it sometimes requires the use of estimated tax rates to calculate state aid, the equivalent of using an imaginary number to generate a real number with real consequences.

In cases where a bad estimate is made, the formula can lead the state to believe that a school district is getting more in local property taxes than it actually collects. The state then would dole out less in funding to the district.

The Illinois State Board of Education has historically opposed attempts to fix the problem because, the state board argues, those attempts would only help one or two districts without solving the underlying problem.

But now ISBE is proposing its own solution. Staff at the state board want to take tax rates out of the formula altogether, which would eliminate the problem of estimates and replace them with a measure of inflation.

U-46 is supporting the fix. District 158 is pushing its own solution. Whether or not District 158's effort succeeds, it appears a solution will pass that will at least prevent controversies like those that have plagued Huntley and Elgin schools from arising again.

And partial credit for that eventual solution would have to go to Farnham and Munson for keeping the issue in the spotlight even while running relentlessly negative campaigns.

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