District Leaders Weigh In on Proposed School Funding Formula Cha - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

District Leaders Weigh In on Proposed School Funding Formula Changes

Posted: Updated: May 13, 2014 11:48 PM

As Illinois lawmakers continue to look at overhauling the state's school funding formula, school superintendents are looking at the potential impact of the proposed changes on students in their classrooms.

We'd see a wide range of results around here. Click here to see the breakdown for each district in the state.

The big aim of the proposed changes is to level the playing field for all students in the state by equalizing funding for districts based on their relative wealth and simplifying the formula, weighting student populations on needs like the number of low-income students and english language learners and combining the so-called categoricals like transportation into the equation for general state aid.

For some local school districts that consolidation is bad news.

For example, the Erie Community Unit School District, which gets most of its state funding through the categorical areas rather than general state aid, would see its state fund slashed by nearly percent.

"It would mean about a $400,000 hit," said Erie Superintendent Brad Cox.

Fortunately, that hit would have no impact on students in the classrooms. In fact, only a relatively small amount of Erie's funding comes from the state - roughly 5%.

It's considered a flat grant district, one with high property tax wealth, thanks in large part to local property taxes from Exelon, which account for about 40% of the district's total revenue.

"Right now, Erie is very fortunate," Cox said. "Our budget this year, we're expected to put three-quarters of a million dollars in the bank."

"And so we could absorb a reduction in revenues," he added.

But that would only be the case for a time:

"Eventually, that $400,000 in state revenue would have to come from somewhere," Cox explained.

And it won't just be from Exelon, but from every property in the district.

"I think financially, the taxpayers of Erie would be losers if it were passed," Cox said.

Riverdale's superintendent, Ron Jacobs, warns that taxpayers in that district could find themselves in the same boat if the current funding formula proposal is approved.

Riverdale would see a 5.7% percent reduction in state aid. That's more than 140 dollars per student.

"I think we'd have to look at every avenue of increasing our revenue or at least getting our revenues back to where they need to be so that we can offer the programs that we need to offer for our kids," Jacobs said.

It is a task that's become more difficult in recent years, with dwindling and pro-rated payments from the state.

"We are not in a position where we can stand to lose a single dollar in state funding," Jacobs said.

The Riverdale Superintendent says he had hoped a new funding formula, aimed at making things more fair, would have helped that situation.

"You know the old saying of 'be careful what you wish for because it may come true,' - I think it does hold true in this case," Jacobs said.

He says the proposal oversimplifies the formula, and doesn't really account for individual needs of districts.

Still, there are plenty of districts in our area that would get a big funding boost.

"We would be a winner," said Silvis Superintendent Ray Bergles.

The Silvis School District would see nearly 40 percent more in state aid under the proposal on the table now:

"We are looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars which would allow us to really not use reserves as much and still be able to hire more people," Bergles explained.

And, after years of belt tightening budget decisions and shrinking payments from the state, an increase in aid would be a big win for the kids in this district.

"Students would get better one-on-one, small groups in terms of teachers," Bergles said.

That said, Bergles knows the numbers in hand based on the proposal as it stands now are likely not the final result.

"There is certainly more work that needs to be done on this," Cox said.

"I think it's possible to come up with a funding formula that's going to be more equitable for everyone," agreed Jacobs.

Every district leader we talked to agreed that school funding reform needs to be done in a comprehensive way, and including things like mandate relief, not just changes to the distribution formula.

"What we need to do is make sure that the winners stay winners but the losers, we figure out something different to make sure that they don't lose all of that funding," said State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Port Byron.

But, with just three weeks left in the legislative session, and major budget issues still left to tackle, it's unlikely lawmakers will approve any school funding reform anytime soon.

Click here to learn more about the current proposal.
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