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Lack of state funds hurting school district

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By Dave Bell

As the state’s financial crisis worsens, school districts and other entities that depend on state funding are feeling the squeeze.

State aid payments are being missed and grants are not being funded. Consequently, local districts are being forced to use their surplus funds – if they have any – to keep existing programs going and to pay their bills.

“The reality of the situation is that the state doesn’t have the money to send out,” Rich Well, superintendent of the Vandalia Community School District, told The Leader-Union on Tuesday. “As a result, somebody is going to come up short. Our job is to keep as many programs going that we can.”

Districts have operated for much of the past two school years without knowing how much of their state funding would be coming – or when it would come.

“It leaves us in the dark,” Well said. “The unknown is what’s hard to deal with. It’s hard to buy supplies, plan for employment or make a budget. And even though we have a budget, it can go out the window based on things out of our control.

“Right now, we’re pretty solid on keeping the programs we have – other than the ones funded by grants (like vocational and Pre-K). The governor’s budget address will give us a better indication of what to expect. We just need to know what we’re going to get.”

He said that sources in Springfield are saying that a 10 percent cut in state funds for school districts is likely.

Well said that administrators and teachers have been working hard to inform legislators of the importance of predictable state funding to the state’s schools.

Districts like Vandalia, which have been able to pull together a surplus, will be better able to weather the storm than districts without that cushion.

“Our balance is there,” he said, “but it could be eliminated very quickly if we’d lose state funding. If we had to run a year or two with significantly reduced funding, we’d start running negative balances. We can stand most anything for a year, but after that, who knows. We’re in a good position because the community, the staff and the board have allowed us to have some money in reserve.

“We’re a ways away from making major program decisions,” Well said. “We can withstand some of these small pains. What’s in jeopardy is the liberal arts philosophy of education – the idea of producing students who are well-versed in several areas.

“We’re going to fight the fight to the end, because the elimination of programs is the elimination of opportunities for kids – and creating opportunities for kids is what we’re here for.”