School board members say state actions could do additional harm to District 153

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School board members say state actions could do additional harm to District 153

October 20, 2015 - 17:16
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Three major actions now before the Illinois legislature could do additional serious harm to Homewood schools, according to administrators and school board members, and the only way out of the financial consequences will be through local decisions.

Shelly Marks, president of the school board, said the decisions before legislators are a proposal to freeze property taxes, a change in the state aid funding formula and moving pension obligations on to local districts.

The district has already been hurt by state imposed tax caps that limit tax growth to the Consumer Price Index that currently is about one percent. The declining property assessments due to the 2008 recession have meant a loss in tax revenue. In addition, the district is carrying a deficit because the state cut out $2 million in state aid funding over the past five years.

At Monday’s school board meeting, board members approved filing the required state forms showing District 153 has a $2.5 million deficit. The action led to questions from community members about what this action means long-term.

Member Gregory Lawrence told audience members: “We have to solve this (financial problem) in Homewood.”

The board will hold 7 p.m. meetings Oct. 28 and Nov. 9 at James Hart School to share with the community information on the district’s finances and hear input on what next steps the district can take to get out of the red and still maintain the excellent educational opportunities District 153 provides.

With the legislators at loggerheads with Gov. Bruce Rauner, board members have no way of knowing when, or if, any of these three proposals will come to pass. In any case, none will be good for Homewood schools, Marks said.

In 2014, legislators talked about changing the state aid funding formula to give more state money to poorer districts.  Homewood would lose money in that proposal. School administrators and board members have talked with local legislators, but little changed after their discussions, according to Superintendent Dale Mitchell. 

This year the idea of changing the state aid formula again is before the legislature, but no action has been taken.  The board continues to appeal to local legislators, including Rep. Will Davis of Homewood who sits on the Education Committee.

Davis told the Chronicle schools got more state aid this year. Although the state is not paying 100 percent of what it promised, it did pay District 153 approximately 92 percent of its obligation this year, compared to 89 percent the previous year.

Gov. Rauner has proposed a two-year property tax freeze. There has been discussion on the proposal, but it has not been voted on.

Chicago has asked for assistance in funding its teacher pensions arguing Illinois puts money in to suburban and downstate teacher pension funds.  Marks said pension changes could become the responsibility of local school districts. This would put the district deeper in the financial hole.

“The state has not really done much to help us,” she said.