U-46 officials say schools may close without state budget

Officials at the state's second-largest school district warn of school closings and program and service cuts in the 2017-18 school year if lawmakers don't approve a state budget authorizing education funding.

Elgin Area School District U-46 receives $150 million annually from the state, including general state aid and categorical payments.

"If they don't pass a budget or a stopgap budget, all the funding stops," said Jeff King, U-46 chief operations officer. "We would be out of money by wintertime. We would use all of our reserves. Our options would be a line of credit or tax anticipation warrants to get us through the rest of the (school) year."

U-46 would need to either levy taxes in the fall and begin borrowing funds to make payroll by the end of February, or else close schools, King said.

"We will need roughly $84 million to finish the school year," King said. Tax anticipation warrants are similar to payday loans at high interest rates.

"There will be several districts that will not even open because they don't have reserves," King said.

Even if lawmakers enacted a stopgap budget and U-46 factored in receiving at least one categorical payment for the school year, the district would need to levy taxes and make cuts, officials said.

"We would have to cut school supply budgets by 50 percent," King said.

Potential cuts might include reducing or eliminating services like activity buses and after-school buses to athletic events, closing high school swimming pools, reducing nonunion personnel and freezing hiring, eliminating equipment spending, and reducing purchased services such as consulting.

"The pools cost us almost half a million dollars just to keep them running," King said. "We spend a lot of money for a facility that gets used about nine weeks a year."

In the future, closing some school buildings might be on the table, he said.

Officials estimate a roughly $15 million deficit next school year.

King said typically the administration would draft and present a tentative budget for the following school year in May, but too many variables are up in the air.

"We are going to wait a little longer and give you some numbers in July," King said. "We will bring forward in July a potential list of items to eliminate to balance the budget."

U-46 CEO Tony Sanders underscored that this is the worst-case scenario. He will be in Springfield on Thursday to testify before the House Appropriations Committee.

"Our communities have to be prepared for what comes when there is no state budget. ... It might mean a lot of different things," he said. "Let's get as much fumes out of the gas tank as we can through the school year to try to prevent having to borrow more than we need to."

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