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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

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Week of October 20, 2003

Gurnee school board may try small tax bid after three losses

By Bob Susnjara, Daily Herald Staff Writer, October 21, 2003

Gurnee Elementary District 56 might place a tax-hike request on the ballot next year that seeks less money from voters than three previously unsuccessful attempts.

Voters rejected a 50-cent boost in the education fund tax rate in November, February and April. An owner of a $200,000 home would have paid an extra $316 to the district.

Superintendent Ben Martindale said new discussions have centered on going to the voters for money in March but with a reduced request.

Martindale said officials might decide to place a referendum on the March ballot asking for a 25-cent increase in the education fund tax rate. The education fund mostly goes toward staff salaries and benefits.

District 56 board members will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday and are expected to address the possible referendum.

If a 25-cent increase was to pass, said Martindale, it would allow the district to hire enough staff to keep class sizes from expanding. He said such an increase would not generate enough income to allow District 56 to rehire laid-off staff members or to add programs.

"You have to be successful at something," Martindale said.

At least 13 staff members were cut after the 2002-03 academic year because of a tight budget. Martindale said another 20 staffers will be cut before the 2004-05 academic year if income doesn't increase.

Martindale said District 56 will work with a balanced $23 million budget for the current school year. He said employee and program cuts helped the district achieve a balanced budget for the first time in several years.

District 56 covers much of Gurnee east of the Tri-State Tollway and some or all of Waukegan, Beach Park and Wadsworth.


Schools push for funding change
Letter: Budgets suffer as tax caps limit ability to handle higher costs

By Patrick Ferrell, Special to the Daily Southtown, October 19, 2003

The Kirby School District 140 administration has sent a letter urging state legislators to change state tax cap laws, allowing school districts around the state to recoup double-digit increases in costs such as health care.

The letter urges state Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) and state Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park) to make an "adjustment or significant change in (tax cap laws) to allow school districts to obtain necessary funding for operation of a successful education program."

In the letter, Jim Connelly, District 140's director of business services, said the state's tax cap laws are draining money from the district's education fund because it must use a levy to cover cost increases.

Tax cap laws limit school, park and fire protection districts, and some municipalities from increasing their annual tax levy by the lower of either 5 percent or the consumer price index, the federal government's yearly measure of inflation.

Since tax cap laws were enacted in Cook County, District 140 saw a one-year increase in medical benefit costs of 23 percent and a 10 percent increase in a following year, Connelly's letter states.

"You have no control over those costs as a district," Connelly said Wednesday. "There are external sources driving that up."

The costs, combined with tax cap laws, mean the school district is not able to set the education fund tax rate at the highest level, meaning a loss of about $2 million yearly in the district's education fund, Connelly said.

"The district budget has been running in a deficit by using the fund balance reserve in the education fund. The $2 million would make up about two-thirds of the deficit," the letter reads.

Connelly wrote the letter, which was signed by the entire central office administration, after testifying at a State Revenue Special Issue Subcommittee hearing in Joliet.

Connelly said District 140 isn't the only school district being impacted by tax cap laws, which were designed to limit property tax increases for homeowners.

"We've got to fix the funding formula for education," Connelly said. "You've got six bankrupt school districts already in the state. It is only going to continue getting worse."

Connelly said he hasn't received a response from Crotty or McCarthy.

Crotty is a former school board member in Arbor Park School District 145 and has long said she supports changing the way education is funded in the state.

McCarthy is a member of the Elementary and Secondary Education Appropriations Committee.


Bill saves nonpublic school certifying: Funding would be restored in 2004

By MIKE FRAZIER - H&R Staff Writer

DECATUR - Michael Breheny enjoys playing soccer for St. Teresa High School and plans to attend Saint Louis University after graduation.

The 15-year-old sophomore hopes the elimination of a state recognition program for nonpublic schools won't affect the teams on which he and his classmates participate - or the scholarship funds they could be eligible for. The program was axed this year amid the state budget crunch.

Michael was one of several students who were glad state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, and state Rep. Bill Grunloh, D-Effingham, announced legislation Monday to ensure nonpublic elementary and high schools would continue to receive recognition from the Illinois State Board of Education. The legislation requires the state board to reinstate the program for schools that request recognition. A companion bill filed Friday provides funding for the program for the 2004-05 academic year.

The advantages of state recognition are numerous for nonpublic schools, teachers and students, said Zach Wichmann, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Illinois.

Benefits include access to student scholarships and financial aid opportunities; participation in interscholastic activities at the high school level, including athletics; public and private grants and matching grants; materials provided through the Textbook Loan Program; a greater opportunity to enroll in professional development programs; credit for student teaching; credit for teaching experience for salary and retirement benefits; opportunity for canceling a teacher's student loans; easy student transfers; and participation in foreign exchange student programs.

"The nonpublic school program is, to us, really a matter of credibility," Wichmann said. "We provide an excellent education for our students. It's not just the state acknowledging the great work we do. There's some real, tangible benefits tied into it, and we need to ensure we continue to receive those."

School officials throughout Central Illinois, including Lutheran School Association in Decatur, Decatur Christian Schools, Sacred Heart School in Pana and St. Anthony schools in Effingham, agree they would benefit from the state recognition program.

"It just looks better to everyone that we are in fact recognized by the state," said John Pastor, principal of Sacred Heart. Even without state recognition, Sacred Heart's reputation for quality education has been well-known in Pana for generations, he said.

"Still, recognition is important," he added. "We have access to state programs and, in return, the state programs can come and look at us. It just makes everybody look better."

Flider said the program is estimated to cost the state less than $200,000 per year.

"Certainly, money is tight right now in Illinois," he said. "But it's been my focus since taking office not to sacrifice quality education. Nonpublic schools produce well-educated young men and women, and we should do everything in our power to help all schools and students succeed."

Grunloh, the bill's chief sponsor, is confident the legislation will pass.

"It seems to me like a fairly simple argument that we cannot stop doing this," he said. "We have over 300,000 students in the state of Illinois right now being funded through private money, and the average education cost per pupil is around $7,500. That comes out to over $2 billion. I don't think the state of Illinois would be anxious to take on that extra burden at this time."

State Superintendent of Schools Robert E. Schiller has expressed support for the legislation, said Naomi Greene, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education. The agency always has considered state recognition to nonpublic schools a valuable service, though it was not mandated, she said. With the state budget crunch, the state board had to apply its resources to required programs.

Marty Hickman, executive director of the Illinois High School Association, also supports the legislation. Should it fail, he's "fairly confident" the association would look into amending its bylaws, which require a school to be recognized by the state board to be considered for membership in the Illinois High School Association.

Keeping the state competitions would be good news to Lindsay Moore, 15, a sophomore at St. Teresa. Lindsay, a cross country runner who went to state as a freshman, hopes to again compete against Illinois' best athletes.

"We work just as hard as the public schools," she said. "We deserve just as much as the other schools to have an opportunity to go to state."



Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777