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updated: 7/1/2011 5:27 PM

Suburban regional offices in limbo after Quinn cuts

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SPRINGFIELD -- When Gov. Pat Quinn cut all the state money from regional offices of education, he largely left suburban officials with more questions than answers.

Will the regional offices close in the coming weeks? Will local districts or counties pick up the tab? And who will run the programs that regional superintendents do if there's no money?

"It's very confusing," said DuPage County Regional Superintendent Darlene Ruscitti. "We're not quite sure what the next step is."

Kane County Regional Superintendent Doug Johnson agrees.

"We're not really sure what we're going to do next."

Slashing funding for the regional education officials was part of Quinn's budget cuts this week, taking a total of $336 million from the budget lawmakers sent him.

Quinn budget director, David Vaught, said Quinn isn't proposing the offices be abolished, but the governor thinks local taxpayers should foot the bill -- not the state.

"They should be paid from a local source," said Vaught, of Naperville.

Unlike school districts, though, regional offices can't levy property taxes and their fates could be subject to the whims of other local officials.

Lawmakers could opt to return to Springfield, override Quinn's cuts and put regional superintendents' salaries back in the state budget. But they're not scheduled to go back to the Capitol until October.

In the meantime, starting Thursday, many regional superintendents, depending on how their funding is set up, are working for free.

"Do you just come to work every day for free?" Johnson said.

Quinn also took the budget knife to schools' busing money. Lawmakers wanted to give local schools more money for buses than before, but Quinn cut that back so there would be no change.

With less cash coming from the state for buses, districts often have to look to cut classroom programs to find enough money to transport students.

"We've already tried to merge routes," said Tony Sanders, spokesman for Elgin Area School District U-46.

And local districts say they've been told by the state that they might not get about a quarter of the busing money they're owed from last year, leaving their funding as an open-ended question maybe for months.

Even though Quinn acted on the budget this week, he's indicated he might not be done making announcements about implementing his plans. On Friday, he said plans to deny 30,000 state workers the raise guaranteed in their union contract, a move that could prompt a lawsuit.

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