Local School Districts React to Quinn's Proposal

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ILLINOIS (WIFR) – Governor Pat Quinn delivered what he’s calling “the most difficult” budget he’s ever submitted to lawmakers. If approved, spending levels for the 2014 fiscal year are the lowest they’ve been since 2008.

Quinn says that’s all because the general assembly hasn’t taken any meaningful action to pass pension reform. The Governor argues $100 billion in pension deficit is squeezing out other services and departments, most notably education.

His proposal calls for $150 million in cuts to elementary and high schools statewide. He’s also asking lawmakers to re-evaluate some of the automatic transfers from the state that benefit cities and counties. Sacrifices he says, have to be made unless something is done about our worst in-the-nation pension problem.
“I know this issue requires a hard vote, but you know that every day you wait to vote on this matter, the problem gets worse. It’s costing taxpayers an additional $17 million dollars a day,” Governor Quinn said.

It probably doesn’t come as much of a shock that Illinois republicans weren’t happy with what they heard. Quite a few told us that they wanted less talk and more action.
“When you talk about getting down and gritty on pension reform, we need the Governor to get out there and talk to members of his own part to push pension reform and get them to actually move the issue,” said Representative Joe Sosnowski.

“Local schools are going to take the brunt of government growing as it is. So, I’m disappointed in that, and certainly hope that the legislature will change this budget and not oly address the backlog of bills, but certainly make sure the schools get funded,” said Senator Dave Syverson.

Local school districts aren’t exactly thrilled with Quinn’s speech either. As you may know, many Stateline schools are already dealing with budget deficits and less state funding will only make things worse.

“It feels like they don’t care about our children’s education anymore,” said Dannetta Fricks. Fricks is frustrated that lack of funding might get in the way of her son getting a good education.
“If you keep cutting all the budget cuts and cutting everything in school, what is going to be left for my son when he gets to high school?”

Lack of state aid has already been a problem for several school districts including Belvidere. “We’re pretty much at rock bottom, we’re at bare bones,” said Belvidere Superintendent Michael Houselog.

Houselog says Belvidere school district is already has to consider closing school buildings. That’s not the case for District 205. Chief finance officer Cedric Lewis says he hopes their cuts won’t have as drastic of an impact.

“Less from the state of course is not going to be a good thing, but again because of the decisions we made a few years ago, we’re better poised to absorb what could be some additional revenue reduction from the state," Lewis said.

Even if some school districts say they can handle possible cuts, parents like Fricks aren’t convinced.

“How do they care? Where are they showing that they care about our children, let alone their education but their future," Fricks said.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers is blasting the cuts. In a statement, the organizations president says that Quinn presents a “false choice” when it comes to schools and a pension overhaul. Despite the outcry, there were a few bright spots in Quinn’s otherwise bleak forecast.

The Governor says he wants to allocate $25 million for mental health care. He’s touting new programs to help curb violence in the state, including new cadet classes for Illinois State Police and an expansion of a program that helps target repeat offenders. He wants to make early education a priority moving forward.

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