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Move Over Illinois Human Services, Illinois School Districts Are Newest Victim in Illinois Budget Crisis

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Move over Illinois human services, Illinois school districts are the next big thing in the Illinois budget cuts drama.

Last year, Illinois budget cuts and budget pain fell disproportionately on human service programs, causing grief principally for Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans, but to a lesser degree.

Now human services are, oh so last year's Illinois budget victim.

This year, the local school district is new poster boy for budget anguish. Local school districts are owed more than $725 million in state money and face a 10% cut in their state money next year.

Lawmakers arrived in Springfield on February 16 for the spring legislative session and the Springfield State Journal-Register greeted them with this local headline: "Springfield superintendent proposes $5.3 million in budget cuts".

It looked painfully similar. It's a headline that lawmakers have been seeing across the state for the last few weeks.

Human services were the Democrats' budget problem. Suburban and downstate school districts are now largely the Republicans' budget problem, and they get angry constituents that go with it.

For example, in Oswego, represented by Illinois House Minority Tom Cross (R-Oswego), school officials face a $5.5 million deficit. In Normal, represented by State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and likely GOP gubernatorial candidate, its schools could be forced to make $6 million to $10 million in budget cuts next year because of state finances.

And in Pontiac, represented by State Senator Dan Rutherford (R-Chenoa), and the GOP candidate for State Treasurer, its grade school district faces a $1 million deficit and a threat of 39 teacher layoffs and elimination of all sports programs. Ouch.

How does that shoe fit?

The question now is: does it make one wit of difference? Will the impending meltdown of local school district budgets--the elimination of sports, arts, teacher jobs, etc.--and the local political flames finally push GOP lawmakers to agree to an income tax increase?

Most informed observers say no. Political strategists on both sides of the aisle argue that the dwindling group of Illinois taxpayers and homeowners--diminished due to growing unemployment and foreclosures--are in no mood for an income tax increase.

Of this group, what do the parents say? Will they swallow hard as precious football teams, favorite teachers, and extra curricular activities are axed? Perhaps. Will parents shake off their recession-weariness in behalf of their kids and besiege lawmakers as the local school budget bites?

What will House Minority Leader Cross and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) do as their members feel constituents' almost certain heat over the next weeks? More muddle? Cry uncle?

For House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Governor Pat Quinn -- heck, they'll probably enjoy watching the Republicans squirm in the stew that they helped cook. Or didn't cook.

But the budget ax that fell on human service budgets may too, at the end of the day, fall on education budgets, too. There may be no rescue from Springfield for schools either. Sacrifice may be the new black all around.

Of course, expect no lawmaker to sacrifice his or her job by sticking their neck out to raise taxes, because voters would likely hand them their head in November.

But it might be a worthy sacrifice on their part to make.

Here's a sample of 17 school district across the state in budget pain:

**February 16-- "Springfield School Superintendent Walter Milton is proposing $5.3 million in budget cuts, including possible teacher layoffs, for the fiscal year that starts July 1."

**February 16-- "The Kaneland School District could be looking at more than $2.6 million in budget cuts and an increased reduction in teachers next year, as public schools brace for possible general state aid cuts due to the state's budget crisis.

**February 12-- "With its 5-2 vote Thursday night, the school board hopes the approval of the $21.7 million in cuts will place Plainfield School District 202 on the road to becoming debt free by 2013. Parents fear the drastic belt tightening will impact the quality of education."

**February 12-- "After talking to state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Republican, about the problematic financial situation of state government, Owen did not see any light at the end of the tunnel for school funding. Eddy told Owen he did not see the situation turning around for at least three more years. In order to accommodate the lack in state funding, the Effingham school board utilized reduction in force (RIF) that leaves some staff without jobs. RIF allows the school district to call back personnel if funds allow in the future."

**February 11-- "As Mokena School District 159 moves forward on deep cuts to its programming for next year, plenty of residents aren't letting those programs go without a fight. The district is eliminating all extracurricular activities, scaling back full-day kindergarten to a half-day program and trimming 14 1/2 full-time teaching positions from the payroll. Those cuts are intended to close a budget gap that stands at about $2 million and growing after a proposed property tax increase was defeated last week by voters."

**February 10-- "Normal Unit 5 could be forced to make $6 million to $10 million in budget cuts next year if state and local finances don't improve, but a major step to limit those cuts may be taken Feb. 24, the superintendent said Wednesday."

**February 11-- "Barrington Unit District 220 board members Wednesday began talking about specific staff reductions for next year as part of their aim to cut between $1 million and $1.5 million from the budget."

**February 11--Indian Prairie. "'We have not landed on what that number will look like,' said Superintendent Kathy Birkett. In a message to Indian Prairie District 204 community members, Birkett explained the effects of the state's financial woes on education. 'The state's $13 billion debt is so substantial that it may be forced to reduce financial support for school districts,' Birkett wrote. 'That means our district is facing possibly $14 million to $20 million in additional budget cuts, and some of those cuts will be very difficult. Until now, we have prioritized cuts that stay away from the classroom, but as deeper cuts are needed, that will be impossible.' Compounding the problem, she wrote, is the fact the state currently owes the school district more than $7.8 million for this year's funding.

**February 9-- "The Litchfield School Board presented a united front in nearly $700,000 of budget cuts at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday night, Feb. 9, at Litchfield High School."

**February 8-- "The cash-strapped Jersey Community School District may have to issue bonds to help cover a state funding gap that is nearing $1 million. The board outlined plans for a working cash bond issue during a sparsely attended special board meeting last week. 'Currently the state is behind in payments to the district at a total of $925,437,' board President Greg Brown said. 'Early childhood, transportation and special ed are the three main categories in which payments are behind.'"

**February 9-- "Waiting for state payments puts the Belvidere School District in a pinch. It says this year it's on track to come up $4 million dollars short, largely due to unpaid money it was supposed to get from Illinois. Fiscal year 2011 is projected to have a deficit of $5.3 million."

**February 7-- "Caught up in the state's delay on payments and the decline of local property values, Oswego school officials are proposing a plan to make up for a projected $5.5 million deficit."

**February 4-- "Program and staff cuts are likely in the Pontiac Grade School District after voters defeated a ballot measure, and the high school district may ask voters again to pay for building improvements. District 429 Superintendent Steve Graham said the poor economy played into the referendum's defeat Tuesday. Graham said the board will announce in March whether it will make up to $1 million in cuts that could include 39 jobs, all extracurricular activities, all sports programs and some art and music classes. The state owes the district $350,000."

**February 5-- "A total of 94 positions in Quincy Public Schools could be cut if the state foundation level falls for the first time, from $6,119 to $5,500. Another 30 jobs may have to go if the state fails to make two of its four mandated categorical payments this year. So far it has made only one. As a precaution, the districts in the nine-county Two Rivers Region anticipate eliminating 329.5 positions overall for this next fiscal year."

**January 28-- "Danville District 118 School Board members Wednesday joined the drumbeat of school leaders across Illinois saying the state's financial crisis will likely lead to staff and program reductions if the Legislature fails to act soon."

**January 27-- "Rockford School District leaders are grappling with how they'll manage the next budget cycle with expected cuts of at least 20 percent. State legislators have said to plan for at least a 20 percent cut in general state aid, which is the district's primary funding source. And that cut might still not be enough, said Cedric Lewis, the Rockford School District's chief financial officer."

**January 27-- "A reduction in force of 56 employees is part of a proposed $8.7 million in budget cuts at Bolingbrook Valley View School District 365U. The cuts are being proposed because of a projected $14.7 million budget deficit for the district for 2010-11."