Rauner’s funding plan leaves long term concerns for local schools

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — As state lawmakers grapple with whether Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner was right to veto Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the fallout will undoubtedly affect the Rockford region and its schools.

Rockford Public School District 205, the city’s largest taxing body, is one of the state’s biggest districts. But, because of new school funding rules, Rockford could be at a disadvantage. And that is because the city is not as liquid as it appears on paper.

If Rauner is successful in his bid to amend the Democratic funding plan, Rockford will be required to disclose revenue from each of it more than 30 tax increment finance (TIF) districts. While estimates say such a move would help Rockford for the 2017-18 school year, this could drastically affect the amount of District 205 would receive from Springfield over the coming years.

Tax increment financing cash is also legally ported from one district to another based on where developers chose to build. And because tax caps impede the city’s ability to recoup revenue, blighted areas remain underdeveloped when TIF dollars are moved to more developer-coveted parts of town.

Following are area school districts and what each stands to receive under the original bill and the governor’s amendatory veto for the 2017-18 academic year.

Rockford Public School District 205

Rockford Public School District 205 is an approximately 30,000-student district consisting of 45 schools. With a budget of nearly $400 million, the district is the third-largest in Illinois. Under SB1, RPS would receive $131,507,048, and $141,018,815 according to Rauner’s amendatory veto.

Belvidere Consolidated School District 100

District 100 would receive $32,729,140 under the existing plan, and $35,634,296 under Rauner’s proposal. The Belvidere district now includes three high schools: Belvidere, Belvidere North, the alternative Belvidere Endeavor High; and two middle schools.

Harlem School District 122

With one high school in Machesney Park, the Harlem district also consists of one middle school and eight elementary schools in Loves Park, Machesney Park and Roscoe.  Existing SB1 state aid is slated for $25,237,093. The governor’s plan pads that amount by $1,644,571.

South Beloit Community Unit District 320

South Beloit stands to receive $4,403,519 from the state under the original SB1, and $4,762,659 if Rauner’s plan is approved. The district consists of South Beloit High School, South Beloit Junior High, Clark Elementary, Blackhawk Elementary and Riverview Elementary.

Kinnikinnick School District 131

The primarily a feeder district for Hononegah Community High School, Kinnikinnick would receive $4,170,570 under SB1 and $4,273,301 under the amended plan. The district is Stone Creek School, Ledgewood School, Kinnikinnick School and Roscoe Middle School.

Hononegah Community High School District 207

Hononegah is a one-school district with an enrollment of approximately 2,100. Rauner’s amended plan would send $6,225,000 to the Rockton facility this school year, while only $5,517,864 under the original SB1.

North Boone Community Unit School District 200

North Boone is made up of four elementary schools, a middle school and high school in central Boone County. It serves students in Poplar Grove and Capron. Under SB1, the district would receive $6,908,477 and $7,474,809.

Genoa Kingston District 424

Genoa Elementary, Kingston Elementary, Genoa Kingston Middle, and Genoa Kingston High schools comprise District 424 in DeKalb County. Under SB1, the district would receive $7,033,215 and $7,596,179 under the amended veto proposal.

Shirland Consolidated School District 134

A single-building, K-8 district, Shirland is the other feeder to Hononegah High School. The district set to receive $110,388 in SB1 funds or $112,997 under the governor’s plan.

Resistance to Rauner’s plan is centered on cuts to Chicago Public Schools of more than $450 million, echoing his cry that Chicago does not deserve a bailout, namely of its public school pension program.

“Enough is enough,” Rauner said last month. “Children should come before everything else, and we have to make sure they get back to school on time,” Gov. Rauner said. “Legislators are holding our children hostage in a political game. This is shameful and unacceptable. Our kids deserve better.”

But the governor’s plan would strip away protections from districts reliant on TIF funds and proposed property tax caps, items Rauner’s amendatory veto of SB1 left doubts hanging over.

Further, the Senate bill is the work of the governor’s own Illinois School Funding Reform Commission. That commission, tasked by Rauner to help redraw the state’s outdated funding package, issued a set of recommendations in February which were used in crafting SB1.

Rauner has characterized the bill as a bailout for the Chicago school system. But groups on the left and right have hit out at his pitting of the state’s largest school district against the rest of its population.

While Rauner Tuesday claimed to have “many superintendents and teachers” around Illinois in support of his plan, he would not name a single one when questioned. Meanwhile, educators are raising red flags over the shortsightedness of Rauner’s funding plan.

“Pretending there is access to money we cant have and there will be no inflation is scary, but the third thing is more scary,” Galesburg Superintendent John Asplund told The Register Mail. “There will be no protection against pension cost shift. Eight percent of Teachers’ Retirement Funding would have to be born by districts. Our $23.8 million salary budget, times 8 percent, is a little more than 1.9 million.

“The governor’s proposal appears to be better, but if you dig into the numbers there is concern.” R.

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