District 161 watching, waiting for end to state school funding crisis

Like school systems across the state, Flossmoor District 161 is in watch and wait mode as the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner wrangle over education funding legislation.

“We’re good, but…” stated Frances LaBella, assistant superintendent of business operations, during Monday’s school board meeting.

While there’s no question that school will start on time, LaBella explained that the district has a large stake in the outcome of the school funding debate.

LaBella said the plan advocated by Rauner would result in an additional $900,000 for Flossmoor schools compared to the school funding formula presented in SB1, an education reform bill approved by the General Assembly this spring.

The Illinois State Board of Education estimates that 97 percent of the state’s school districts would receive more funding under Rauner’s plan. The Senate bill would result in more state money being directed to Chicago Public Schools.

SB1 was vetoed by Rauner this month. The Senate subsequently overrode the veto. The bill now is in the Illinois House where 71 votes are needed to override Rauner’s veto.

LaBella said if the bill dies “there’s no funding mechanism. Where we go from there, I don’t know.”

District 161 recently received its property tax receipts payment and a $500,000 payment for mandated categorical expenses from the state, LaBella said. However, general school funding remains in limbo during the current political impasse in Springfield.

Meanwhile, plans are underway to bring fun elements to the start of the 2017-18 school year.

Superintendent Dana Smith said a back to school 'meet and greet' will take place Friday, Aug.18 at 6 p.m. at Flossmoor Park, 2523 Flossmoor Road.  He said new members of the district’s team will be on hand to meet parents and children. Zarlengo’s Italian Ice treats will be available along with giveaways from Meijer, the Village of Flossmoor and the Flossmoor Public Library.

The event will culminate with a Movies in Our Parks screening of “The Jungle Book” at 7:45 p.m.

Also, chalk will be distributed at the event in advance of a back to school activity planned for Wednesday, Aug. 23, the day before school starts. Parents at each school in the district will be encouraged to use the chalk to write notes of encouragement and support for their students upon their arrival for the start of the new school term.

“We want to start the year on a positive note,” Smith said.  “This will be a positive, community-focused and fun start to the school year.”

For district staff, the school year begins with three days of activities next week before students arrive. All staff will meet at Parker Junior High on Monday and Tuesday, with Tuesday’s agenda including what Smith described as “special development activities.” Staff will assemble at their respective schools on Wednesday to ensure everything is set for the beginning of classes on Thursday, Aug. 24.

Community involvement is a new focus in the district and the board heard the first report from its new Community Engagement Committee that met for the first time this summer.

Board members Stephen Paredes and Carolyn Griggs met with Jodi Bryant, director of human resources and public relations at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, to review H-F’s engagement program including communication tools like newsletters, e-newsletters, electronic communication and social media.

Paredes said such communications are relevant only if they are focusing on “success of the children.”

He said the committee will meet again soon and will identify needs, set objectives and audit the district’s present communications plan.

The board approved a required Crisis Plan. Details are not made public for security reasons but the plan was devised in consultation with local police and fire departments. It also includes a schedule for fire and safety drills.

The board recognized Shari Demitrowicz, principal at Serena Hills Schools, for completing her Doctorate in Education this summer at the University of Saint Francis. Her dissertation was on the social curriculum second step and effect on minority boys in reading.

“We’re proud of Shari and lucky to have her as a leader,” Smith stated.

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