The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 Board wrestling with 'equitable funding'
By Seth Hancock
Does School District U-46 recognize the fiscal environment in the state of Illinois, or should the state take more responsibility of funding U-46?
In 2014, the Board of Education in U-46 passed a resolution directing CEO Tony Sanders to lobby for Senate Bill 16 and any reiterations of it is as well for "equitable funding" from the state. Sanders has recently taken a few trips to Springfield supporting SB 231 from Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill).
However, that resolution was passed by a previous board and Sanders’ efforts to support SB 231, the current incarnation of SB 16, came without any board discussion from the new split board prompting board member Cody Holt to question the board’s president Donna Smith and Sanders. The board discussed the issue at its meeting on Monday, April 11.
“I think right now we should be advocating on behalf of funding education,” said Holt who added the district’s priority should be to get a funding bill first before advocating for “equitable funding.”
The state is currently in a stalemate on a budget as the Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat majority legislator battle. Rauner has asked for a clean education funding bill and has pushed a bill that would increase general state aid, most of which would go to government schools, by nearly $300 million.
Without a funding bill that could mean schools would be unable to open next year which Holt feels should be the top priority, but others disagreed saying both are necessary.
Smith said her “feeling on it is that it’s not one or the other” and Sanders said “you can’t separate the two” and that “we have to fight for fully funding the formula plus some.”
Holt said that “I don’t want it to pit communities against each other” which SB 231 does, but Sanders said that the current formula pits districts against each other as U-46 loses $400 per student to proration compared to Barrington CUSD 220 which loses $60. Board member Sue Kerr, who said “we just got to keep pushing to get more equitable funding,” later pointed out the current cap on proration limits cuts to $240 per student.
However, Sanders did not give the full context of proration as U-46’s state funding per student already far exceeds that of CUSD 220 which accounts for the difference. According to current Illinois Report Card data U-46 receives 27.1 percent of its revenue from the state, about $127.4 million, which would mean $3,153 per student while CUSD 220 receives 7.8 percent of its funding from the state, about $10.9 million, meaning $1,226 per student.
Holt said he understood the current funding formula, which he did call “broken” and needing a fix, does pit districts against each other but said he doesn’t want U-46 advocating for a fix that continues that.
Board member Traci Ellis said that “U-46 will be a winner” under SB 231 and “we want to fully fund education plus some.” Both she and board member Veronica Noland said their only concern was for U-46.
“We would be doing a disservice to our community if we did not advocate for specific legislation that helped our district even if it hurt another district,” Noland said.
Board member Jeanette Ward said: “I don’t support taking money from suburbs for example and giving it to Chicago, which is what Senate Bill 1 and the following sister bills did.”
Board member Phil Costello said Sanders should have latitude, which Holt agreed, on how he lobbies for the district, but the board should be giving guidance.
The Examiner sent questions to the board to further elaborate on the issue and Costello, Holt and Ward all replied. Ellis, Kerr, Noland and Smith did not reply.
Considering the vague terminology bantered about like “equitable funding” and “fully funding” education, the board was asked what that means to them individually.
Holt said: “The state should play a minor role in funding education compared to property taxes. This allows for more local control and less influence coming from Springfield. With that being said, it is imperative that we keep the property tax burden low on district residents.”
Advocating Rauner’s turnaround agenda, Holt said that would allow districts more control to lower costs.
Costello said the terminology “only obfuscate our challenges over managing our budget that U-46 controls. The simple reality is that U-46 currently has a budget with implausible prospects for new public dollars. The most constructive approach should be guided by creating taxpayer value that maximizes our students’ educational experience and outcomes.”
Costello said focus should be on “alternative education models” which would make education “both innovative and opportunistic.”
Ward called the terminology a “bit nebulous” and that Illinois is losing a resident every five minutes, which comes from U.S. census data. She said: “How is it that other states are able to fully fund education at much lower costs/student than Illinois? If funding followed the student, instead of district boundaries (education choice), I think that would go a long way in making funding more ‘equitable.’ This particular bill maintains the current antiquated education model by shifting money around. This will not fix the system and we will be talking about this again in 3-5 years.”
SB 231 would be a bailout of Chicago’s teacher pension system according to Ward who said “suburban taxpayers pay nearly double in property taxes” compared to Chicago and “I am not okay with bailing out CPS (even if the bill benefits U-46), and that is not ‘equitable funding.’”
Sanders has consistently advocated taking from the haves to give to the have not’s and criticized Rauner in his weekly message on March 3 because “he made it clear he would not support any funding reform proposal that reduced funding for some school districts in favor of other school districts.” Considering his salary is paid for by taxpayers of varying political stripes, is it appropriate for Sanders to weigh in on the political battle?
Costello said having Sanders as the sole lobbyist is most cost effective and efficient and “the traditional way to lobby is to hire a shill. Hiring a lobbyist would be an extra cost that would not deliver the credibility that Mr. Sanders emits.”
Ward said: “I am in dissent, but Mr. Sanders has seven ‘bosses’ (in addition to the taxpayers) and has to take direction from a majority opinion of the board.”
Holt said: “Right now we should be lobbying our state senators and representatives to fully fund education and send the governor a clean school funding bill. My top priority is making sure our schools can open in the fall.”
The board was given data regarding the fiscal health of Illinois. According to usdebtclock.org the state’s debt was $147.8 billion when the questions were sent, now it’s $147.9 billion, and the state spends $135.4 billion but takes in only $112.4 billion while a 2015 report from the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois says Illinois has $159 billion in IOUs.
Asked if the district can expect more funds from the state considering the poor fiscal climate, Ward said: “I don’t think it would be prudent given Illinois’ financial situation. As it is, the state has recently calculated an over-payment to U-46 and the district will asked to return $500,000.”
Holt said Rauner’s top priority is education and “I believe that if the General Assembly sent him the record school funding bill he asked for he would sign it, and U-46 would see an increase in funding from the state.”
Costello simply said “no.”