State budget causes D99 to lose over 2.6 million

Sidney Lee, Feature Editor

To date, the state of Illinois owes D99 $2.6 million, and there is no state budget on the table for approval. Over the past 22 months, Illinois has been left without a full-year operating budget, causing school districts to take action across the state.

Tony Sanders, CEO of the Elgin area School District U46, Illinois’ second largest school district, started reaching out to other administrators to join a statewide movement called “Pass Illinois’ Budget!” Sanders declined to comment for this article, but on April 24, D99 superintendent Dr. Hank Thiele released a statement encouraging community members and students to support the initiative along with over 400 Illinois school district superintendents and school chiefs. The supporters who signed on represent over 1.3 million Illinois students collectively.

Many school districts, including D99, are using school marquees to show their support of the “Pass Illinois’ Budget!” movement.

As the May 31 congressional adjournment deadline approaches, the pressure is on for Illinois to pass a new state budget.

“During this absence of a state budget, the one thing the legislature has done is pass a K-12 budget, that appropriates the general state aid money and categorical dollars to the various school districts across the state, so that’s allowed schools to stay open,” member of the Illinois House of Representatives David Olsen said in an Omega interview.

While K-12 education has benefitted from the partially-funded state budget, there is still a separate issue where the state owes school districts millions of dollars in unpaid bills.

“The biggest spot that [the lack of a budget] has affected us is that we would have collected that money and would have had it in our holdings and bank, and then what we do is we spend that money last. There would have been $46,000 worth of interest we would have been earning on that money that we will never receive,” superintendent Dr. Hank Thiele said in an Omega interview.

D99 has money saved in a fund balance that could sustain its schools for a few years, however, if a budget is not passed, Thiele said D99 would have to make some cuts and changes. The board has not yet looked into what these changes may be.

The majority of funding in D99 comes from local property taxes. Since the smallest part of the fund comes from the state, D99 schools are able to stay open, pay teachers and supply resources and materials to students.

Smaller school districts and districts in low-income areas feel a greater impact of the budget impasse. If the impasse continues, some school districts will have to make significant cuts.

Currently, there is discussion in both the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives to resolve the impasse.

“I think it is very important that representatives and senators don’t hinder a negotiation. We have to look at both the revenue side and the expense side of the ledger. I’m willing to consider compromise solutions, even solutions that have things that I don’t like. We need to have all our options on the table,” Olsen said.

Another factor that has placed additional burden on schools during the budget impasse is state mandates. The state continues to pass unfunded mandates and regulations that come at the expense of school districts. For example, lead testing is now required in Illinois elementary schools and daycare centers, but it will come at the expense of those establishments.

In an Omega interview, member of the Illinois Senate Christine Radogno says that mandate relief to schools is part of the senate’s negotiations. Olsen believes the House should consider the necessity of each mandate.

“I think we need to continually evaluate and talk to the educator community about what mandates are necessary for safety and education, and which [mandates] are outdated or ill-considered,” Olsen said.

There is pressure on both the House and the Senate to come to a compromise and pass a state budget.

“The legislators need to continue to hear from their constituents. Legislators need to hear from students, parents, teachers, and administrators. The more the message can be continually delivered, that the lack of a state budget is impacting our schools in a negative way, the better,” Olsen said.

To get involved in the legislative process reach out to legislators or show budget concerns by using the hashtag #PassILBudget.