ROE opposes Quinn’s proposed cuts

In his budget address last week, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn identified several programs in state government that could be put on the chopping block to reduce the state’s massive deficit.
One that hit close to home for Mark Drone was a proposal to eliminate state funding for the Illinois’ 45 regional superintendent of schools offices.
“We were dismayed and disappointed that the governor’s people didn’t look into what we do,” said Drone, the regional superintendent of schools for Fayette, Bond and Effingham counties. “The person who wrote that plan didn’t have any idea of the dominos that would fall if these cuts are made.”
Specifically targeted are state funding line items for regional superintendents’ and assistant regional superintendents’ salaries; training programs for teachers; and training programs for school bus drivers.
Office space and salaries for other staffers in the regional offices are paid by the counties and through grants, said Julie Wollerman, assistant regional superintendent. She said that the regional office staff in Fayette County includes five employees at the main office near the county courthouse, four in the educational services division and 11 in the alternative education division.
“The grant money we bring in far outweighs the expense of our programs,” Wollerman said. “By providing services on a regional basis, we can offer services more efficiently than having each district provide them.”
Among the programs potentially lost, Drone said, are school bus driver training, grant-writing to support numerous educational programs, various training seminars for local educators, GED testing, truancy prevention programs, oversight of vocational and special education programs, performing background checks for substitute teachers and providing alternative educational programs for at-risk students.
“We think we’re a good deal,” Drone said. “Many of these functions will still have to be done. Will they really save money (by eliminating funding for the regional offices), or will it cost them more if they contract those things out in the private sector?”
Wollerman added: “The state money we receive is seed money for all the other things we do. We’re doing the work of the state – carrying out the functions required by state law.”
Quinn isn’t the first to place the regional offices in the budget-cutting crosshairs. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich unsuccessfully proposed similar cuts in 2003.
“The proof of our worth is what local school districts think of us,” Drone said. “We’ve brought millions of dollars in grants into these three counties. We’re hoping that those we serve will step forward and tell the governor what they think of us. Locally, we’ve heard nothing but support, and that’s encouraging.”
Both Drone and Wollerman have been in their positions since 2004. He is elected to four-year terms, and she is appointed by Drone.
Drone also said that the regional superintendents will be meeting with members of the legislature to convince them of the value of the current system.
“Our plan is to tell legislators that they’ll save money in the end if they save this system. So far, I don’t think the governor’s people have thought it through and connected all the dots on this proposal.”

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