School Funding Dispute: How Long Could Unit 5 Stay Open? | WGLT

School Funding Dispute: How Long Could Unit 5 Stay Open?

Jul 21, 2017

Unit 5 in Bloomington-Normal has enough money to stay open around 70 days this coming school year—maybe less—if lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner can’t reach an agreement on school funding.

Lawmakers approved a new evidence-based school funding formula but haven’t sent it to Rauner because he’s threatened to veto it. Rauner wants to use his amendatory veto because he thinks the bill (SB1) gives too much money to Chicago Public Schools. Rauner said Friday that he plans to call a special session Monday if the bill doesn’t reach his desk.

Some school districts in Illinois may not be able to open their doors in August without the state money that’s being held up in the dispute. Normal-based Unit 5 would be able to open its schools using fund reserves, but that money would run out in 40 days, according to Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman. Local property tax revenue would stretch Unit 5 to around 70 days, Hickman said.

After that point, Unit 5 may consider borrowing money to stay open.

“Those are scenarios we’re looking into,” Hickman said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “Right now we’re just trying to build those contingency plans, and with all the uncertainty it’s even hard to build those plans.”

The new evidence-based school funding formula, if approved as-is by Rauner, would send Unit 5 around $416,000 in new revenue. The district’s overall budget is around $147 million.

Bloomington-based District 87 school district would receive an additional $163,000.

“It’s certainly not a windfall for Unit 5, but it at least does provide some stability,” Hickman said. “More importantly, it aligns educational spending to things that are actually proven to provide results in the classroom in student achievement.”

Uncertainty over state funding is nothing new for Central Illinois schools. But this particular issue—the school funding formula dispute—is “a little bit worse” because it impacts the largest chunk of money that the state sends to districts like Unit 5, said Hickman. That wasn’t the case last year.

“Long-term, it can be the best (funding) model in the world, but if the payments don’t actually come to the school district, then we’re right back to where we started,” Hickman said.

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