Round Lake school district receiving extra $5 million from state

 
 
Updated 2/12/2018 6:47 PM
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  • The state's new school funding model likely means Round Lake Area Unit District 116 will have more money to spend on students, including around $5 million it expects to receive in April.

    The state's new school funding model likely means Round Lake Area Unit District 116 will have more money to spend on students, including around $5 million it expects to receive in April. Daily Herald file photo

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 is expected to receive roughly $5 million from the state in April.

It's money the district didn't plan for, and now the school board must decide which projects to spend it on.

The money comes from the state's new "Evidence-Based Funding" model that lawmakers approved in August and fundamentally changes how state money is distributed to schools.

In theory, that means the district -- which received around $40 million from the state for the 2017-18 school year -- can expect to receive closer to $45 million each year and possibly even more.

"I'm very excited," school board President Kevin Daniels said Monday. "For many years, Illinois has been near the bottom in terms of state spending on education. To get to a more equitable place is great."

According to the new model -- which factors in 27 pieces of information such as the teacher-to-student ratio and low-income student population -- the district is receiving only about half the money it deserves.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Johnston said the state's preliminary calculations indicate District 116 should receive about $106 million total from state and local sources. In reality, the district received only about $54.5 million for the 2017-18 school year.

To close the gap, the new law calls for the state to steadily increase its investment in underfunded school districts.

"It's a long way to get there, but if we can get closer to adequacy there are so many things we can do to help our students," Daniels said.

Because the district's 2017-18 budget is balanced, Daniels said, officials want to spend the extra $5 million on one-time expenses they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford.

The first of those projects was approved last week when the board accepted a $645,585 bid from a contractor to make anti-flooding infrastructure improvements to Murphy Elementary School in Round Lake Park.

Daniels said Sheila Duhon, the district's executive director of operations, has a list of other infrastructure projects the board likely will consider funding in the coming weeks. He said the board also would discuss spending the money on technology and curriculum.

Daniels said officials don't want to spend the money on recurring payments, such as hiring new teachers, when it isn't certain how much money will be coming in each year.

"We want to see this have a track record so we're more confident in the flow of funding before making a continuous expense," he said.

Daniels said he is excited about what the new funding formula means for the district's future.

"I've been to other high school districts in Lake County and I've seen what is possible," he said. "This opens up a whole new path for us to take on our academic journey."

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