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Vote looms in U-46 for Fiscal Year 2018 budget

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 will be voting on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget at its upcoming meeting on Monday, Sept. 25. The board discussed it on Monday, Sept. 11.
  In its current form, the budget is $8.9 million in deficit with total spending at $517.9 million ($6.5 million increase from last year) and revenues at $509.1 ($3 million decrease), but it is expected to change due to the approval from the state of Senate Bill 1947, a so-called “evidence-based” school funding model.
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders called it a “draft budget,” but “by state law, we have to submit a budget to the state of Illinois by Sept. 30.”
  “We are awaiting final figures from the state board of education on the impact of (SB1947) on U-46” said Sanders who added that “at this point, we do not know what the final impact will be.”
  The district expects to receive more funding from the state, but apparently instead of using that as a means to relieve property taxpayers the indication from Sanders and some board members is to use the state’s funding bill as justification to keep increasing its expenses, despite projections that enrollment is to decline about 2 percent each year for the foreseeable future.
  “As we move forward, we’d certainly like to engage the board and get your feedback… on how we should adjust future budgets to reflect this additional revenue,” Sanders said.
  Board member Jeanette Ward was the lone board member in attendance, Phil Costello was not at the meeting for the discussion, to suggest lowering the property tax burden.
  “In my opinion, if we get an increase from the state, we should decrease the property tax levy correspondingly,” Ward said.
  Part of the reason for the “evidence-based” model’s passage by the General Assembly was because of the state’s budget vote in July which would only allow school funding to go out if such a model were approved. That budget included a 32 percent increase in the state’s personal income tax and 33.3 percent increase in the corporate tax, hikes that Sanders supported, and lowering the property tax levy could help offset some of those increases for citizens in U-46.
  Sanders said that in “the second year and subsequent years… U-46 qualifies to apply for tax relief where the state would actually give us money back towards our property taxpayers if we are successful in our application.”
  However, that description of the process is inaccurate according to state lawmakers like Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) who described the property tax relief provision as allowing “districts at 110 [percent] of adequacy to run a referendum to force a lowering of property taxes. The specific provisions make it much more difficult than it should be to pass such a referendum.”
  The model claims to use “evidence” to determine what adequate funding is for each school district by determining what staffing standards should be, and Ward asked how that would affect U-46?
  Sanders said it was his “understanding” that “the model is based on a staffing ratio, but it does not affect the board’s ability to staff differently from that.”
  Ives said of the model: “It is only input based. It is seven spreadsheets going out to 89 columns of data to send money to schools. And if our current bloated education bureaucracy does not know already how to deliver good education then this formula will not help. The term begs the question, why haven’t they used ‘evidence’ before?”
  Sanders claimed at the meeting “we’ve always had a lot of discussions at the board table about cuts, but we’ve never had one about how do we reinvest in our schools.”
  It’s unclear if Sanders meant during this budget discussion or historically. This year’s budget discussion did include talks of potential cuts if the state didn’t pass a school funding bill.
  Board member Veronica Noland wants to discuss increasing expenses as she said “what’s more important is to look at if we can reduce class size.”
  In previous year’s Jeff King, chief operations officer, said reducing a class size by one student would cost $1 million.
  Data does not support that lowering class sizes helps improve academic performance including a 2013 study by Harvard researchers Will Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer, Jr. which stated: “We find that traditionally collected input measures -- class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree -- are not correlated with school effectiveness.”
  The Department of Education’s “Digest of Education Statistics” showed that spending on education in the nation has increased over 180 percent and the number of teachers employed by nearly 100 percent since 1970, but enrollment and test scores have been flat.
  Noland congratulated Sanders for his “hard work” to achieve “the big win” of the “evidence-based” model passing through the state, and Sanders said he and other school superintendents were part of a “grassroots” effort to lobby the state to take more money from the taxpayers to give to school districts.
  The board will also vote at its upcoming meeting on a resolution to continue the use of mobile classrooms, the list including 13 total units and 21 classrooms, as well as on two expenditure items which would come out of the education fund if approved: $68,000 with Language Testing International Inc. to purchase Assessment of Performance towards Proficiency in Language tests, and $648,133 for a five-year contract with Defined Learning, LLC to purchase the Defined STEM resource.



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