County's schools plan to open on schedule
Administrators at each of Union County's seven public school districts have indicated that they are planning to open as scheduled in August for the start of the 2016-2017 academic year.
As of early this week, a great deal of uncertainty surrounded the start of the new school year due to the lack of a state budget.
A legislative session was scheduled Wednesday in Springfield. A Southern Illinois legislator said Monday that the purpose of the session was to address a stop-gap state budget.
Illinois has been without a budget for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2015. A new fiscal year starts on July 1.
Reports have been circulating that some school districts may not even be able to open their doors to start the 2016-2017 academic year due to the ongoing budget impasse.
Union County public school officials have indicated that they are hoping for the best in a very uncertain, very fluid situation.
Dr. Keith Reinhardt said that Union County school district superintendents have, as a group, agreed that the academic year will open on schedule in August. Reinhardt is superintendent of Jonesboro School District No. 43.
Union County's public school districts include Lick Creek School District No. 16, Cobden School District No. 17, Anna School District No. 37, Jonesboro School District No. 43, Dongola School District No. 66, Anna-Jonesboro Community High School District 81 and Shawnee School District No. 84.
"We will open school," Reinhardt said during a telephone interview on Monday.
"We're preparing for the worst – and hoping for the best," he said.
"We are definitely going to open on schedule in August," Lick Creek School District superintendent Brent Boren said.
"Our plans are to start school," Anna School District 37 superintendent Chuck Goforth said.
Dongola School District superintendent Dr. Paige Maginel and Shawnee School District superintendent Shelly Clover-Hill both answered with an emphatic yes when asked if school will open on schedule in August.
"Yes – we will open on time," Anna-Jonesboro Community High School District superintendent Rob Wright said.
Cobden School District superintendent Edwin L. Shoemate outlined the situation in a letter to the district's parents and guardians.
"Without state appropriations for K-12 education in the fiscal year 2017, many school districts will face dire circumstances," Shoemate wrote.
"For Cobden, state funding comprises 67 percent of revenue, or $3.6 million. The district has resources that will allow the opening of school and should sustain the district for the time being.
"The top priority of our elected officials must be to enact a budget that includes adequate funds for public schools for the upcoming school year. This will ensure that schools across the state open on time and are adequately funded for the full year.
"As taxpayers and as citizens who are concerned about the health and future of our state, now is the time to be engaged. Contact your elected officials to let them know your feelings about the current 'state of our state' and the funding of education.
"Your School Board and administration have been actively engaged with our elected officials to make sure they understand what the impact of not receiving state school funding will have on our students and community.
"We will continue to monitor this situation closely. We will also continue to develop contingency plans to respond to the propect of an ongoing budget impasse into the fall. We are committed to continuing the outstanding educational services that your child deserves and to serving our school community without interruption."
While the local school districts are planning to open as scheduled, there is uncertainty as to how long they will be able to operate.
In one district, the academic year could last until the third quarter. Two other districts could operate until December.
Due to the uncertainty of the situation, some of the administrators did not want to offer a prediction as to how long the school year could last. Several said that their district could end up dipping into reserve funds to operate.
While the state may not have a budget in place, the school districts could receive some financial assistance in the form of revenue generated by local property tax bills, which could be in the mail sometime during the summer.
In the meantime, school districts watch and wait to see what happens in Springfield.
Administrators did voice frustration over the entire situation. One school superintendent suggested that "politicians are using education as a pawn."
"Second Class Citizens"
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said Monday, June 27, that he would "continue to fight for Southern Illinois students against a plan backed by the governor that would divert much needed resources from the region’s classrooms.
“As I talk to residents throughout Southern Illinois, one of the biggest concerns is making sure that our students and young people have the resources they need to succeed,” Phelps said in a news release.
“I’m not going to sit on the sidelines while Chicago governors try to divert money from our classrooms and treat Southern Illinois students like second class citizens.”
As legislators geared up to return to Springfield to address a stopgap state budget, Phelps said that Gov. Bruce Rauner recently stated that he would not support a compromise unless the Illinois General Assembly approves his education-funding bill.
Critics of the governor’s proposal argue the measure falls far short of providing the funding-levels needed for the required basic resources for Southern Illinois classrooms, Phelps said.
Phelps is backing a measure that would prioritize Southern Illinois students by protecting against siphoning money away from the region’s classrooms and ensuring schools have the needed resources.
Under Phelps’ measure, Southern Illinois students in the 118th District would receive a little over $65 million for K-12 education. Part of Union County is in the 118th District.
Phelps said that the governor’s plan allocates less than $62 million, a reduction of about $3.3 million that would be withheld from Southern Illinois schools.
Advocates for the Phelps-backed measure state it’s the only reasonable proposal based on the needs of Southern Illinois.
“Our governor has consistently carried out his Chicago agenda since taking office, starting with closing Southern Illinois facilities like the Hardin County Work Camp,” Phelps said.
“We’ve heard this song before, because now he’s taking aim at our students just like he has targeted our state workers.”
The 118th District includes all or portions of Alexander, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski, Saline and Union counties.
Southern Illinois schools would be big winners under a clean school funding plan being finalized that State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said he would support at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Local schools would see their state support increase by nearly $10 million over what they received this past year.
In fact, Forby said in a June 28 news release, no school would lose funding if the plan manages to become law, which would require approval in the Senate, Illinois House and the governor’s signature.
“No more games. People need to put politics aside to ensure our schools open on time,” Forby said.
“This plan fully funds our schools. Springfield will stop shortchanging us and cheating our schools, our students, our teachers and our taxpayers out of the money they were promised.”
As proposed, for the first time in years the state would fully fund its commitment to local schools, and put an end to several years’ worth of the state knowingly cutting back payments to them.
This practice was especially unfair to Southern Illinois schools while wealthy suburban Chicago districts were able to cope more easily with the cuts, Forby said.
Forby said the deal is too good for Southern Illinois to pass up.
“Every school in the region will see an increase in funding. That’s a plan I can support,” Forby said.
“We all know Southern Illinois schools have been shortchanged for years. That ends now. It’s time we got our fair share.”
The Senate planned to take up the proposal on Wednesday.
Gov. Bruce Rauner issued the following statement about the budget situation on June 28:
"Democrat leaders who control the General Assembly made it clear they will not take any major action on balancing our budget or passing real reforms until after the General Election in November.
"That is wrong and that is why, despite their refusal, I am advocating for two bills: a stopgap funding measure to ensure our most critical government services continue being funded and a school funding bill that puts more money into education, holds all schools harmless and ensures they open on time in the fall.
"This morning Republicans will introduce an updated stopgap measure to add funding for higher education, MAP grants, and human services.
"We are three days away from the end of the fiscal year. While we have essentially reached agreement on a six-month stopgap budget, the super majority is focused on passing a school funding bill that forces suburban and downstate taxpayers to pay for a massive bailout of the severely mismanaged Chicago Public Schools system.
"I have said it before, and I say it again today: we must not bail out a broken system that refuses to change the way it does business.
"Forcing Illinois to raise its income tax to bail out CPS is fundamentally unfair to our school children, parents, homeowners, and small business owners across the state.
"The real tragedy is that we have proposed legislation which would let Chicago fix every one of CPS’ problems, allowing city leaders to protect their students and taxpayers while eliminating the need for any bailout – but Speaker Madigan has refused to call the bills for a vote.
"Granting local control of collective bargaining would allow CPS to remove teachers’ pensions pickup from contract negotiations, saving taxpayers from the single biggest threat to CPS’ financial health. The Mayor requested the state do this last year.
"Applying President Cullerton’s pension reform proposal to CPS teachers’ pensions would save Chicago taxpayers billions in the long run and give them the resources to hire more teachers.
"Allowing CPS to declare bankruptcy if the Mayor or city council deemed it necessary to reorganize school contracts and debts could protect teachers’ jobs and prevent the need for massive tax hikes on homeowners in Chicago. And even if the Mayor chose never to exercise the option, it would fundamentally alter the balance in teacher union contract negotiations, making tax hikes no longer the only inevitable option.
"If Mayor Emanuel would join with his friend, President Cullerton, and lead in the effort for reforms along with Republican legislators, then together we could protect students, teachers, and taxpayers in the city and the state, creating a better future for everyone."