By Mary Helt Gavin

As School District 65 and 202 prepare for four or more years of austerity because of a likely two- or three-pronged financial squeeze from Springfield, they are looking for allies in nearby school districts and input from the community on what to trim.

Those threats include first, the State’s shifting to local school districts the “normal cost” – or yearly payment – of teacher pensions; second, a change in funding for public schools that, as it now stands, would cost Evanston public school districts about $6 million annually after a three-year phase-in; and third, a freeze in property taxes, the source of well over half of each District’s annual revenue.

Information provided by the two School Districts at their joint meeting on Nov. 9 showed the cumulative potential loss for each District if all three threats are realized: $12.7 million for District 65 and $5.3 million for District 202.

ED-RED, the advocacy group for several suburban school districts in Cook, Lake, and DuPage Counties, is working separately on a proposal to fund public education equitably, something that Senate Bill 1 purports but fails to do. One of the criticisms of that bill has been that, although it may be an attempt at equity, it does not provide adequate funding for many school districts.

Ed-RED members hope to craft a foundation funding level that would be both adequate and equitable. The “foundation” amount is the what the State allocates per public school student. The Illinois Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) is charged by law with making recommendations to the General Assembly on the foundation level. Since 2003,” the foundation level set in statute has regularly fallen short of the EFAB recommendation, according to the EFAB. The Illinois State Board of Education has been forced to prorate payments to districts, since the total cost of claims, as calculated by the General State Aid (GSA) formula, has exceeded the amount of funds appropriated by the State. In FY 13, payments to districts stood at just 89% of the amount owed to them by the GSA formula,” according to the EFAB. The EFAB’s most recent recommendation of a foundation level was $8,672 per pupil, an increase of $2,553 per pupil.

Ed-RED says an “adequate” foundation funding would be defined as “a reasonable cost to educate students for success.” For equity, Ed-RED proposes allocation of General State Aid funding on student-based needs.

Meanwhile, Districts 65 and 202 may invite other local school districts to join them in their fight against Senate Bill 1, the proposed pension shift, a proposed property-tax freeze and other stumbling blocks the General Assembly could throw in the path to adequate and equitable funding of public education.

Potential Threats to the Financial Futures of District 65 and District 202.