At last weeks monthly meeting of the Vandalia Board of Education, Superintendent Rich Well told the board that hes hearing through the state education hierarchy that there may be a plan afoot to cut state expenses by not fulfilling the last two state aid payments at the end of the current fiscal year.
Though there is no proof at this point that the state does indeed plan to eliminate those payments (which amount to $300,000 each for Vandalia), the prospects of such reductions have the states school districts very concerned.
And with good reason.
Such a cut would worsen the financial difficulties already being experienced by many of the states school districts. And for the Vandalia district, the elimination of $600,000 in anticipated state funding would undo all the headway thats been made through sacrifices and cuts in expenditures.
Its a cruel move for a district and a community that have sacrificed so much to get the districts financial house in order. Teachers and administrators have shown great fiscal restraint by operating within the budget and postponing pay raises. And community residents stepped up to the plate last year to pass a referendum to get the district out of a hole. Our property tax bills are an annual reminder of our part in the process of strengthening our district.
When contacted by The Leader-Union last week, State Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) said he knew of no legislative proposal that would cut the final two state payments to schools this June. We hope it stays that way.
But theres still the governor. Faced with a state with major league financial problems and legislative machinery crippled by his unwillingness to work with our representatives in the house and senate, its not out of the question that he would seize this sort of opportunity to keep the cash in state coffers. We hope he has more of a commitment to education than to enact such a backdoor funding raid.
For Chicago schools (which seem to capture all the governors attention), missing the state payments wouldnt be as catastrophic as it will be for downstate districts. In the northern districts, the high property values funnel massive amounts of funding to schools, so the state portion isnt as significant. But in poorer downstate districts, state funding plays a major role in the financial picture for our districts. The $600,000 would mean a loss of about 4 percent of the local district's entire budget. And that will mean the difference of achieving a balanced budget, of offering needed classes, of being able to afford extracurricular activities.
So far, the rumors of state funding cuts are just that rumors. We must be vigilant as the end of the fiscal year approaches, watching to make sure state officials dont pull a midnight funding raid that would undo all the positive strides weve made in the past two years.