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Local

DeKalb County schools waiting on transportation, special education funding from state of Illinois

State yet to make first three payments; fourth due June 20

The state of Illinois owes school districts in DeKalb County more than $10 million in transportation and special education funding. Aside from a few thousand dollars for driver’s education, local schools haven’t seen a dime in categorical funding for fiscal 2017.

Districts such as DeKalb School District 428 can withstand the delay. Even after the school board approved the transfer of about $4.2 million from the transportation fund to the education and operations and maintenance funds Tuesday night, the district has about $600,000 in reserves.

Even though District 428 is owed three quarterly payments from the state totaling more than $5 million, Business Manager Andrea Gorla said she isn’t concerned.

Not yet.

“As long as that money comes in by August, we’re good,” she said.

The state’s last payment is due June 20, and the first three were due Sept. 30, Dec. 30 and March 30.

The DeKalb district projects an ending transportation fund balance of $197,000 – a projection that includes the four fiscal 2017 payments.

“I know for some districts, this delay is causing them hardships,” Gorla said. “Fortunately, we’re not in that mode.”

Again, not yet.

Those in that mode include Sycamore School District 427, which has tapped reserves over the past two years “to compensate for the lack of state payments,” Chief Financial Officer Nicole Stuckert said.

The district is owed nearly $2.2 million in categorical payments – about $1.4 million for special education and $800,000 for transportation. The fund’s reserve balance is down to $3,400.

Stuckert said the Sycamore district had to issue tax anticipation warrants – borrowing in anticipation of 2016 tax levy dollars that will start coming in from the county in June.

In Kirkland, Hiawatha School District 426 is owed $537,000 by the state, although it has gotten about $3,400 in funding for driver’s education and free lunch and breakfast vouchers – also lumped into categorical funding.

“I’m hoping we get anything at this point,” Superintendent Chad Willis said. “It’s impacting our long-term decisions.”

A transportation committee has been meeting to analyze its operations, scraping to find ways to get more efficient. More lean.

Gorla said her district first got its fiscal 2016 funds this past December. She also said she recently got word from the state that the first quarterly fiscal 2017 payment would arrive in the first two weeks of this month.

The district has received nothing yet. 

Theoretically, the state must make the payments. Unlike general state aid, which up until this school year was prorated by the state five consecutive years, categorical payments are vouchered. They have to be paid, right?

“Yes and no,” Gorla said. “They have authority to say they’re not going to pay it, even with the huge lag of payment, when it hits the next fiscal year.”

“Unfortunately, with the state of Illinois, just because they’re mandated to pay this, I’m not confident they will pay it,” Willis said.

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