Dist. 200 hosts forum on controversial school funding bill

  • Republican state Sen. Michael Connelly talks to District 200 community members in Wheaton during an information session about Senate Bill 16.

      Republican state Sen. Michael Connelly talks to District 200 community members in Wheaton during an information session about Senate Bill 16. Jessica Cilella | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/30/2014 4:21 PM

Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials are continuing to sound the alarm about the possible consequences of Senate Bill 16 -- despite assurances from some lawmakers that action will be delayed until spring.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, an Aurora Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, wrote in a letter earlier this month that the controversial school funding proposal needs more work.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Estimates from the Illinois State Board of Education show at least 27 suburban districts could lose more than half of their state money if the bill passes and only nine would come out winners. District 200 officials said they would lose roughly $9.8 million in state funding phased in over four years.

During a forum Wednesday night at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, Superintendent Jeff Schuler told a crowd of more than 50 students and adults that District 200 needs to be prepared to make some difficult decisions should action on the bill take place this fall or winter.

"We've heard everything from, 'Don't worry about Senate Bill 16, it's not going to get called,' to other folks within the Senate and House that have said, 'Yeah, but it's an active piece of legislation out there and you don't start a conversation by passing a piece of legislation that really is only a few steps away from coming into effect.'"

The bill attempts to reduce disparities among Illinois school districts by directing more state money to poorer districts, at the expense of wealthier ones. But opponents say it doesn't address adequacy in state funding to school districts.

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"There's no new money flowing into the system. It is simply a redistribution of existing funds," Schuler said.

District officials estimate the cut in funding would be equivalent to about 132 teachers. Schuler said the district already is starting to think about what might need to happen if the bill passes in its current state. That includes discussions about possible teacher layoffs, program cuts, increased class sizes and higher property taxes.

"Even if (SB16) doesn't get called in its current form, something is going to come out of this discussion on finance," he said.

"We just have to be aware of the fact that there's some movement in school finance and it's very likely to affect our district, very likely to affect DuPage County."

Bill Farley, assistant superintendent of business operations, gave attendees an overview of the district's current funding.

He said the national average for school funding is about 43 percent from local sources, 43 percent from the state and the remaining from the federal level.

But in Illinois, the average amount of school funding that comes from the local level goes up to almost 60 percent. And in District 200, he said, about 84 percent of revenues are from the local sources, which include property taxes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Farley also explained how even though the district has lost millions of dollars from the state in recent years, the school board has been diligent in passing balanced budgets and staying below average among several benchmark school districts in spending per pupil and property tax rates.

Republican State Sen. Michael Connelly spoke at the forum, too. He said taxpayers need to pay attention to a lame duck session that will be coming in January.

"I've been in Springfield five years. Bills come out in the blink of an eye," he said. "This bill doesn't have to be Senate Bill 16. It could be House Bill 3112 at 11:30 at night on the last day of session."

Schuler urged participants to alert their friends, neighbors and other members of community about the bill. Many said they didn't think people they knew were aware of the bill, and some suggested the district make information about it more available to taxpayers who don't have children attending a school in the district.

For information about how the bill in its current state could affect District 200, visit cusd200.org. Items discussed at Wednesday's gathering will be presented again during a second public information session at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, at Hubble Middle School in Warrenville.

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