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Quinn’s education cuts darken gloomy forecast for local school districts

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 8:54 a.m. CDT

SYCAMORE – A more than $400 million cut to education to solve a $97 billion pension shortfall is an equation that does not add up for Luke Glowiak.

Glowiak, assistant superintendent for business at Sycamore School District 427, said Gov. Pat Quinn’s call for cuts to elementary, secondary and higher education during his budget address Wednesday shows the governor has missed the point on solving the pension problem.

Instead of investing in education, Glowiak said Quinn is holding it ransom to force action on pension reform, which should be considered a separate issue.

“We need to quit pandering to this crisis mentality, and we need to start coming up with some creative thoughts,” Glowiak said. “Education is the most important commodity we have, and it’s the one being given short shrift.”

Quinn’s proposal came as no surprise to Glowiak or other local school district officials who have seen state support plummet in the past five years. If the cut is implemented, it would bring the total cut to K-through-12 education to more than $1 billion since 2008.

Under the plan, $150 million would be cut from the minimum per-pupil spending the state is supposed to provide school districts. That would mean districts would receive only about 82 percent of the per-pupil amount, or general state aid, that state law says is needed to adequately fund a student’s education.

Sycamore School District 427, already considering eliminating seven positions in part because of lack of state funding, could be out of close to $1 million in general state aid under Quinn’s plan, Glowiak said. Even more funding would be lost with transportation funding expected to be prorated at 19 percent.

“We seem to want to find scapegoats to beat up and the governor and a couple legislative leaders are making the scapegoat the pensions and schools and that’s disappointing,” Glowiak said.

The cut to transportation funding was the main concern for most local school officials, including James Briscoe, superintendent of DeKalb School District 428.

The district lost $300,000 in transportation funding this year, which contributed to a $2.3 million deficit, and is expected to lose even more this coming school year, Briscoe said. The steep cut to transportation almost assuredly means another deficit budget for the district, he said.

“To use public schools as what you’re going to cut to drive home what you want to accomplish is not a good approach,” Briscoe said of the state failing to find pension reform. “It’s very typical of Springfield.”

When the pension reform does come, Joe Burgess believes it will hit the local taxpayers even more and further hurt school districts.

Burgess, superintendent of Genoa-Kingston School District 424, said each year the state puts more responsibility on local school districts to fund programs that are mandated and supposed to be paid for by the state according to law. Shifting legally required state contributions to pensions to local sources could be the next step.

For a district that already lost $572,000 in general state aid this year, the prospect of funding pensions along with an education system lacking needed state support could bring the worst kind of cuts – teachers.

“You sure hope it doesn’t get to that point, but personnel is obviously one of the biggest costs to any school district, and it’s something our district and all districts have to look at,” Burgess said. “We need to start thinking as Illinoisans and not as political parties. We need to take pride in our state again.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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