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District U-46 to receive additional state funding

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 will likely hold special meetings to discuss how to spend additional funding that will be coming from the state as the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently released numbers on how a new funding formula will affect districts.
  U-46 will receive $22.5 million in additional funding from the state according to the ISBE numbers which comes from a so-called “evidence-based” funding formula approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner last August.
  Donna Smith, U-46 board president, said at the Monday, April 9 board meeting that she and U-46 CEO Tony Sanders had discussions about the additional funding prior to the meeting and they decided the board should have “at least one,” maybe more, special meetings to discuss it. No dates were set at the meeting.
  “This is not money we just want to spend. We want to have discussions around it,” Smith said.
  “It’s a good problem to have as a school district, as a board to start having the discussion about how to reinvest in our schools,” Sanders said.
  Board member Jeanette Ward said she hopes that alleviating the burden on local taxpayers will be part of the future discussions and that the focus should be on “long-term stability.”
  “Given the unreliability of the state funding to our district, which we’ve seen in the past, I think that this money should be spent on one-time expenditures and to paying down the debt so we can have some long-term stability,” Ward said.
  Ward noted that the most recent property tax levy increase approved in December by the board, which both she and Phil Costello voted against, was $8 million which is “not even half of the additional dollars coming from the state.”
  “My question is there any reason why we can’t have a truly flat levy next year or even decrease it, and we can talk about that during these meetings you’re suggesting,” Ward said. “We could have a truly flat levy and still have an increase in funding overall.”
  Ward added: “Property tax relief was one of the stated reasons for that legislation. So we should at least contemplate a flat or decreased levy, especially in light of projected declines of student population.”
  Smith said “that’s going to be part of the discussion” but “we have to look at all different” options for spending the additional funds.
  U-46 has consistently increased its property tax levy by the maximum amount allowed by law but has employed an abatement the last three years which has a stated effect to keep the levy flat. Ward has called the abatement a “sleight of hand” as the district is “in fact increasing the levy extension in a permanent manner while we abate back the money on a temporary basis, and that’s disingenuous to the taxpayers.”
  The Fiscal Year 2018 budget approved by the board in September, Costello and Ward both voting against it, planned for spending and tax increases despite enrollment declines for the foreseeable future.
  Regarding the enrollment declines noted by Ward, the budget projected enrollments to drop to 36,360 by 2020-21, which if that comes true, would represent a 10.6 percent decline from a 2012 high in enrollment while expenditures will have increased by 22.6 percent over that same period.




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