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Schools will open on time despite state’s education funding battle

Education officials in Homewood and Flossmoor pledged that schools will open on time, despite the state of Illinois’ school funding issues.

Legislators approved Senate Bill 1 (SB1) that would rewrite the funding formula for general state aid. Gov. Bruce Rauner threatens to veto the bill. Without approved legislation there is no mechanism in place to provide school districts with state dollars. 

That quandary will again put schools in a precarious financial situation, but administrators in Homewood District 153, Flossmoor District 161 and Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 all say students and parents should expect schools functioning as usual.

H-F’s first day for students is Aug. 16, and Homewood and Flossmoor schools open Aug. 24.

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“There will be school in Homewood this next school year,” declared Shelly Marks, District 153’s school board president.

“We will be able to open on time and function fairly normal for the first few months of the school year,” said District 153 Superintendent Dale Mitchell, “but at some point our reserves would be depleted if the education funding impasse is not resolved.”

Frances LaBella, assistant superintendent for business in District 161, said the district has healthy reserves and will be able to meet its obligations, but said the situation is “not optimal.”

For several years legislators have worked to come up with a new funding formula that will distribute money to poorer districts without reducing funding to wealthier districts.

Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, is the chief House sponsor of SB1, the latest version of a schools funding bill that is “evidence based.” 

“We are hopeful, but not very optimistic that SB1 will be passed,” Mitchell said.

“A permanent tax hike with little change to government structure or school funding policy is very difficult and becoming almost impossible to manage for school districts and communities,” stressed Jody Scariano, chair of the Finance Committee for H-F’s school board. 

“There must be reform to alleviate the property tax burden for communities that do not benefit from high levels of commercial and industrial property within the school district.”

H-F Superintendent Von Mansfield said just 20 percent of the district’s revenue comes from the state, and the district is waiting for a back payment of $800,000 from Springfield.

“Because of the district’s long-range financial planning, we will be able to weather the impact from the state’s financial situation in the short term,” Mansfield said. 

“But our district, as well as most other districts, would not be able to sustain the same level of programming that currently exists for our students if this were to continue.”

”It is incomprehensible to me that we finally have a state budget and Illinois’ school children are left out,” Marks said. “The state owes (District 153) approximately $1 million in unpaid obligations from just this past school year.

“While we will open and have the reserves to pay our bills we are tired of seeing our children being used as pawns in a budgeting battle,” she said.

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