SPRINGFIELD, IL – State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said administrators, educators and board members traveled to Springfield May 13 from Streator to share their concerns regarding funding for Streator Elementary School District #44.
The group expressed their extreme concern over the continued proration of General State Aid (GSA) funding and delayed categorical payments by the State of Illinois. The proration and delayed payments have had negative effects in several areas of the school district. Superintendent Matthew Wilkinson noted that the district has taken several steps to help mitigate the state’s cuts, but they are still struggling to continue the operations at a level that is needed.
“Over the last six school years, we have reduced our budget by over $5.3 million,” Superintendent Wilkinson said. “We have reached an operational tipping point where for the protection of students and staff, we cannot make any further cuts.”
The group met with both Sen. Rezin and State Representative Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) during their visit and asked the legislators to propose legislation to fully fund GSA at 100% and require that categorical payments be made on time.
Sen. Rezin said she understood how huge of an issue this was for the school district and supported a stop in continued proration to the district as well as immediate payments made to them.
“This school district has done everything they can on their end to live within their budget but provide the needs of their students,” Sen. Rezin said. “It’s time that the state live up to its side of the bargain and fund this district properly so students and the district aren’t suffering like they are now. Continued proration and delayed payments are unacceptable at this point.”
Streator Elementary School District’s budget cuts have translated into closings and dismissals. The district has closed one school, dismissed 15 full-time and 5 part-time teachers, dismissed 11 and reduced 49 full-time support staff positions to part-time, and eliminated 1 principal and reduced 5 administration building positions.
The GSA proration and the delayed categorical payments have had consequences extending past closings and dismissals. It has also forced the school district to borrow more than $1.5 million each year for the last four years. Despite the budget cuts and borrowing, the district has had to reduce several programs and the teacher layoffs have led to increased class sizes, which has had a noticeable effect on the students.
“We’re at a point where we are not able to do much more and still provide proper services and education to our students,” Superintendent Wilkinson said. “Our programs and students have already suffered. We believe there is a solution. If the state would pay Streator Elementary 100% of its GSA and delayed payments were made on time, we believe that with the budget reductions we have made so far, we would be able to continue to survive this economic crisis. Additional proration to GSA would be extremely detrimental to Streator Elementary.”
The group that traveled to Springfield marched in front of the State Capitol with signs that read: “Save Our School,” “Children Should Come First,” “Our Kids Need You!” and “Streator Kids Are Depending On You.”
Cheryl Finkelstein, a school board member for the last 10 years and a lifetime Streator resident said the issue has divided the community.
“The Streator community has always worked together and come together, but this issue has split the community in half,” she said. “Right now there’s a lot of finger pointing between staff, administrators and parents. It has been hard to witness, but we need to work together within the state and community to come back together on this issue and find a solution. We need help from the state because we want to give our kids the kind of education we had.”
“We’re here today to support the district, school and kids,” Barbara Ehling, Streator Elementary School District Board President said. “The district is in crisis and we need help. It is affecting students and it is affecting our staff that does a wonderful job every day. If there is no help, we’re afraid of what our options will be next. We’re looking for more options, but unfortunately, we’re not sure of what those will be yet.”
Rosemary Lowe, Co-President of the Teacher’s Union in Streator, said the cuts have been hard on the school and students.
“Due to the cuts, we have lost 20 teaching positions over the last two years,” she said. “It has led to an increase in class sizes and cuts to programs and athletics. It has been hard to watch because of the impact it has had on students. It’s been terrible.”
Amanda Dimmig expressed that she has witnessed the effects of the cuts right in her own home.
“I’ve noticed a definite change in attitude of my daughter over the last several months,” Dimmig said. “It has impacted her learning due to the big class size. She isn’t getting the same kind of attention that she used to and she’s become frustrated with her class work. It’s frustrating to know that my daughter won’t experience the same fun things that I did when I was in school, such as home economics, due to the program cuts. It’s a smack in the face to the kids to keep taking funding away.”
Linda Volkman, another school board member, said that Streator Elementary School District is at a disadvantage to other schools in the area.
“We’re landlocked, so our tax base opportunities are limited in regard to farm land,” she said. “We don’t have the same advantages which means we don’t have as many options. We’re severely underfunded from the state and that’s our largest concern here today.”
The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn May 31. Budget legislation has yet to pass either chamber.