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DeKalb County schools hit by state budget woes

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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Local school districts are used to receiving only 89 percent of the money state officials promised them, but they are expecting to receive less in the future.

With general state aid payments prorated at 89 percent, DeKalb School District 428 lost $1.3 million in funding this year, said Andrea Gorla, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and business. The district’s total anticipated revenues for its education fund, which is its main operating fund, is $62.3 million.

“That hits us extremely hard,” Gorla said.

The district loses $140,000 for each additional percentage point in proration, Gorla said. With proration expected to occur next year between 80 and 85 percent, that could mean a loss of anywhere between $560,000 and $1.2 million in revenue for DeKalb District 428.

Other school districts are facing similar situations. Genoa-Kingston District 424, which is expected to receive $13.9 million in total education fund revenues this year, lost $572,000 in general state aid, said Brad Shortridge, the district’s assistant superintendent. Sycamore District 427, which expected $37 million this year in education fund revenues, lost $693,170 with payments prorated at 89 percent, said district accountant Nicole Stuckert.

General state aid is a formula for education funding that takes into account local wealth and student attendance. In Illinois, most state funding for education goes into general state aid, said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

The state board administers public education in the state. With the money allocated to them by the Illinois General Assembly, the officials at the state board makes two monthly payments to school districts. Proration occurs when the legislature does not allocate enough money to public education, Fergus said.

“When there’s not enough money to fund the claims, the claims have to be prorated,” Fergus said. “That’s our course of action...As the cuts have gotten bigger, we’ve had to spread it out over time.”

The proration has forced school districts around the state to look at ways to cut down costs. So far, the county’s biggest districts have not made cuts that directly affect students or student-based programs because of the state funding issue.

DeKalb District 428’s recent cuts have been on the administration side. For instance, DeKalb used to have four assistant superintendents, Gorla said. Now they have two. They’ve also tied salaries to the consumer price index, or inflation, and they try to control costs related to union contracts.

In Sycamore School District 427, they’ve cut operating expenses and funds for supplies and equipment, Stuckert said. In Genoa-Kingston District 424, they’ve made reductions in administration like transportation and food services, but they’ve exhausted the “low-hanging fruit,” Shortridge said.

“It’s not our expenses and expenditures. We’ve reduced those in the millions over the last five years,” Shortridge said. “The cuts we make in expenditures are being equaled in the reduction of revenue.”

Revenue from the state starts in the Illinois General Assembly. State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said the state pays for things like pensions and debt pay-offs before the remaining revenue is divided among education and other services.

“The House passes a law that we’ll spend certain types of programs first ... Last year, it consumed half of the revenue,” Pritchard said. “This year, it’s going to consume more than half of the revenue.”

The ranking Republican in the House’s appropriations committee for education, Pritchard said there was a simple reason education payments have been prorated: “We’re broke.”

“The chickens have come home to roost,” Pritchard said. “That’s why we have less money to spend for all of the services.”

Even though the state is projected to bring in an additional $700 million to $1 billion in revenue, all of that will be swallowed by the increase in pension payments the state has to make, Pritchard said.

Pritchard said school superintendents need to talk back when the state presents them with unfunded mandates – new rules for schools that the state does not assist with financially.

“We need a pushback to the overreach of government,” Pritchard said.

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