Community Unit District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy channeled one of his favorite movies Thursday in sending a message to legislators, Sears Holdings executives and Hoffman Estates officials during a rally to protest the proposed extension of tax breaks for Sears that funnel property tax revenues away from the school district.
"We will not go quietly into the night," a defiant Bregy told about 3,000 students, parents, staff and community members who filled the gymnasium of H.D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin.
"We will not vanish without a fight," Bregy continued, quoting the 1996 Will Smith blockbuster, "Independence Day."
The fight is over an amendment to Senate Bill 540 that would extend the Sears Economic Development Area, or EDA, for another 15 years. Initially established in 1989 to keep Sears from leaving Illinois, the EDA is set to expire in 2013. Supporters of the extension say it is needed for Illinois to remain competitive as Sears considers options and incentives in other states.
But attendees at Thursday's rally -- at which hundreds of people also marched in protest -- said 23 years is long enough. District leaders say the incentives have cost the district more than $200 million over the past two decades and that a 15-year extension would take $14 million a year out of the district's hands.
"We really want Sears to stay in Illinois," Bregy said. "What's not going to work is putting the entire burden on a school district to figure out how we are going to move forward."
Parents and teachers said they have seen the effects the lost revenues have had on the district. Teachers said class sizes are the largest in the state with more than 30 students in a classroom.
"Our kids need this money," said Eiko Sidlin, a special education teacher at Golfview Elementary School. "We need to make classes smaller so that there's more attention on their education."
Jessica Martins, also a Golfview teacher, said kindergarten students are not allowed outside during recess, specials such as music and art have been cut and field trips are not offered because there is not enough assistance for teachers.
Students who took part in the march prior to the informational session said they want to make changes before it's too late.
"This won't just affect me, it will affect the children that come after me," said Faith Freemon, a freshman at Dundee-Crown High School. "Once they take something away it is next to impossible to bring back. We need to take care of it now so we don't have to worry about bringing it back later."
Sue Demma, a parent of two students in the district, said the money would allow the district to end the drastic cuts it has had to make in the past decade.
"We need to stop cutting teachers," Demma said. "If we keep on this same track we will need to find more areas to cut, and that's not good for our kids. The state of Illinois needs to do the right thing and find a better way. The burden should not be put on our kids."