By Nancy Thorner and Carl Lambrecht –
Responding to an invitation to attend a public forum in the auditorium of Deerfield High School (District 109) hosted by state representative, Scott Drury (D-58) through his legislative office to discuss Senate Bill 16 on Thursday evening, October 23, the authors of this article attended as constituents of Rep. Drury. Noted was that SB16 has driven more communication to Drury’s office than has any other issue in the past month.
Among the 50 or so individual attending the Drury event were invited superintendents from Lake Forest School District 67, Michael Simeck; Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65, Dr. Jean Sophie; and Highland Park High School District 113, George Fornero.
IL State Representative Scott Drury (D-58) does not support SB16 (School Funding Reform Act of 2014), which was passed in May of this year by the super majority Democratic Senate. If enacted, SB16 would make sweeping changes in how the state funds education and its apportionment among school districts. Those school districts with higher assessed property values would receive less state funding, while other districts (like Chicago and in downstate Illinois) would receive a sizable increase in funding, in an attempt by state legislators to provide greater equity among school districts across the state.
Although the House will not be officially voting for SB16 until sometime in November following the fall election in the Lame Duck session, Rep. Drury affirmed to those present at the forum, as in prior confirmations, that he would be voting “no” on SB16.
For clarification: A public hearing has yet to be held on the bill. Rep. Scott Drury’s 58th District includes a number of the most affluent schools in Illinois that would receive cuts in their state funding if SB16 were passed:
- Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65: -$416,620, 72% cut.
- Lake Forest School District 67: -$689,758, 66% cut.
- Lake Forest Comm HS District 115: -$519,707, 64% cut.
- Bannockburn School District 106: -$78,442, 71% cut.
- Deerfield School District 109: -$1,248,269, 68% cut.
- North Shore School District 112: -$2,581,405, 78% cut.
- Township HS District 113: -$1,384,322, 68% cut.
According to Rep. Scott Drury, It would cost affluent school districts in Lake County approximately $7 million a year in state funding. Although it would not diminish the amount of money schools get through their known property taxes, it would redistribute the amount of the state income tax that Illinois collects and earmarks for education. As to the chance of SB16 passing in its present forum, Drury believes it highly unlikely (SB16 is 450 pages long. “Yes” votes from 118 representatives would be needed to pass SB16.).
As host, Rep. Drury introduced a panel of four experts to discuss SB16:
1. Michael Lubeefeld, Ed.D., Superintendent of Deerfield Public School District 109 (pre-kindergarten through 8th grade).
2. Ben Boer, Director of Policy, Advance Illinois, an “independent,” “objective” voice to promote a public education system in Illinois that prepares all students to be ready for work. Posted on October 16 at Advance Illinois: “SBl6 moves us (Advance Illinois) in the right direction, making us more progressive.”
Mr. Boer also serves as a Member of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, or PEAC, a 32-member body appointed by the Illinois State Board of Education to create a new way to evaluate teachers and principals that incorporates student growth measures.
3. Robert Wolfe, CFO, State Board of Education, Chief Financial Officer of Illinois Board of Education
4. Nicki Bazer, General Council, State Board of Education
Nicki Blazer, the state board’s general counsel, views the current state funding formula as flawed. In general, SB16 sets out to equalize disparity in the distribution of funds from the state between school districts that have ample resources and those that are challenged. One problem about the current state funding is that sixty-seven percent of the districts in the state are deficit spending. The state board, consisting of 9 members, provides a recommended budget for the state to fund schools, which is close to $1 billion.
Robert Wolfe, Blazer’s colleague at the State Board of Education, explained how the new formula would give a more equitable distribution to more school districts throughout the state, although, admittedly, at the expense of the more affluent school districts in Lake County. Accordingly, those that have more resources available at the local level would get less funding from the states. This would bring up the rest of the state with 82% of the funding now being equalize. There are weighted categories in SB16 for deciding the amount of state money a district will receive, among them the number of low income students, non-English speaking students, pupils with disabilities, advance standing pupils, gifted education pupils, and career pathway completion.
Ben Baer, as director of policy for Advance Illinois, expressed how the differences in funding by school districts make state funding a vexing problem. Those districts having a lower tax base to draw upon — school districts are funded basically through property taxes — need more state funding as they lack the local resources to provide an adequate education. Illinois has the highest education gaps by income, higher even than its racial gaps. As expressed by Baer: “All lose when our students with the greatest needs lose.” Because of the fiscal insolvency of Illinois the amount of state aid has shrunk in the past 10 years.
As superintendent of Deerfield District 109, Michael Lubelfeld, has been urging his District 109 families to express their opinions to Rep. Scott Drury and state senator, Julie Morrison (D-29th) to oppose the cuts, although he did acknowledge that area schools have long been strong with adequate funding. Lubelfeld spoke about federal, state, and local mandates. (Illinois has adopted Common Core standards and this requires additional funds by all Illinois school districts to replace books with those that are geared to the Common Core’s progressive curriculum and also to purchase and administer the tests mandated by Common Core.)
About the iPad, although invented only four years ago, Lubelfeld called it a necessary tool that must be made available to each student as a way “to raise the floor of education, not lower the ceiling.” Superintendent Lubelfeld, not comfortable in being a loser, is involved in the collaboration of the ISA, ISBO, and IARSS as they work through Vision 20/20 (focused on funding) to come up with a call for action.
Unanswered at Rep. Drury’s forum:
- Ben Baer from “Illinois Advance” presented costs for education that were half of what can be observed in “Illinois Pension Scam”. Pertaining to Lake Forest District 115, the stated $21,976.81 cost per student is more like $40,000, or almost double the cost given by Advance Illinois per Lake Forest High School student.
- In speaking about the need for more money, how it is that effective schools, such a church-affiliated schools, perform mostly on less than half of the money spent by many tax supported school districts,
- In Township HS District 113, if the -1,384,322 cut under SB19 were divided among its 3,700 students, the cut would amount to $374 per student.
- The central location of education in Drury’s 58th legislative district is Highland Park High School. Years ago students from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff came to Highland Park for their high school education. This could be one school district again with one superintendent. At present there are 5 superintendents serving individual school districts located in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Highland Park, and Deerfield. If school districts have surplus buildings, they should be made available to competitive schools to improve education in the area.
- Nothing in the forum spoke of vouchers or charter schools.
- Nothing spoke of eliminating laws which force higher costs to education such as the prevailing wage law.
- Nothing spoke of the large corporation who is exempt from paying real estate taxes.
- The cuts noted if SB16 were to pass, could be offset, in part, if the number of superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals, and other supervisory positions were greatly reduced, along with their substantial salaries. Unnecessary administrative costs add to the burden of tax payers, when fewer individuals at the administrative level could adequately handle the work load. Thorner can vouch for Lake Forest District 115 and Lambrecht for Township HS District 113, as to the amazing number of supervisory positions (and unnecessary) that exist in their respective school districts.
It would be interesting to learn how state funding is being used by the affluent schools in Rep. Drury’s 58th legislative district. Voting “No” on SB16 is the politically expedient thing for Scott Drury to do when school administrators are belly aching over possible cuts in state funding.
Since it is children we are talking about and their education, I doubt if the children attending the affluent schools located within Rep. Drury’s 58th district would suffer if state funding were reduced, but it stands to reason that in poorer school districts, some extra money could make a big difference.