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Article updated: 4/16/2013 3:08 PM

District 300 to lobby against transportation funding cuts

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Community Unit District 300 is readying to rally the troops for more organizing in Springfield.

The Carpentersville-based district expects its transportation funding to drop from $1.8 million to $60,000 if a proposed state budget is approved by lawmakers in coming months. District 300 already receives 24 percent less funding than three years ago.

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"This total cut of over $3.5 million has occurred as our student enrollment continues to increase and the cost of gas keeps rising," the district posted on its website Friday, explaining the previous cuts.

District officials worry additional reductions in transportation funding will create safety concerns for students being asked to walk farther to school, increase student absenteeism and cause logistical problems if more parents drive their children to school.

School board member Joe Stevens is the co-chairman of the district's legislative committee, where members already have identified categorical state funding like transportation as a legislative priority. They are planning meetings with state legislators to discuss the proposed cuts in coming weeks.

Board member Stephen Fiorentino, the other co-chairman of the legislative committee, said the district must be loud and clear with representatives and encourage other boards of education to vocalize their opposition against education cuts that are seen as an easy target.

"We can't be the low-hanging fruit," Fiorentino said. "There are safety issues there. We have to have our community rallying around this cause."

District 300 saw great success in its 2011 lobbying efforts against an extension of major tax breaks for Sears that kept money from the schools.

Part of the issue with funding cuts from the state is the fact that payments are being reduced while mandates remain in place. District 300 cannot choose to stop providing transportation for students. It must figure out how to provide the services with less money.

That's an issue Stevens said needs attention.

"We need to focus on the local control aspect, not the funding aspect," he said.

But with a budget decision looming for the state legislature, organizing around funding comes first. Board President Anne Miller suggested a legislative discussion during a future board meeting to develop a "targeted attack."

"We don't want to dilute the message," Miller said, acknowledging the various legislative priorities the district has already outlined.

"We need a targeted purpose and not just to be down there lobbying, saying, 'Give us money.'"

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