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School funding cuts affect local districts differently
By James Fuller | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/24/2009 12:02 AM | Updated: 7/24/2009 12:05 AM

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Disabled and minority students, and efforts to improve reading will be hurt most in area school districts after budget cuts imposed by the Illinois State Board of Education this week.

St. Charles Unit District 303, Batavia Unit District 101, Geneva Unit District 304 and West Aurora Unit District 129 all expected some cuts, but they didn't know where the biggest hits would come.

Worse, teacher staffing levels have been locked in for the coming school year, officials said, including for programs that will now lack some state funding. Plus, the state still owes local districts grant money from last school year.

The state owes District 129 about $3.5 million in late payments. And now it will lose about $1.5 million more because of the latest state cuts.

That is leaving the district with the difficult decision of whether to accept reduced state funding for its early childhood program this year, Chief Financial Officer Christy Tyler said.

There's a chance the reduced funding will force the district to put early childhood efforts on hold for a year if enough supplemental local funding isn't found. But not taking any money this year jeopardizes the district's chances of receiving any early childhood funding from the state in future years.

Money to help bilingual students and disabled learners is also slashed, reducing the district's ability to purchase materials and train teachers who work with those children.

"Obviously it doesn't help," Tyler said of the financial losses. "It greatly impacts our ability to help those students."

District 304, which has received about $4.4 million from the state each year, stands to lose only about $420,000. Assistant Superintendent Donna Oberg said the district is in good shape to fill in the gap because the district has about $34 million in its rainy-day fund.

District 101 is also not overly concerned about the impact of the cuts, Superintendent Jack Barshinger said.

"We had taken the attitude that there would be no help from Springfield," Barshinger said. "We decided we were going to solve the budget crisis locally."

The big blow to the district is the cut to reading improvement programs. Barshinger said the district will likely make up for the funding loss with more cuts to supplies and materials.

"The budget is going to be very close, but we're going to put the new numbers in and go from there," he said.

District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann said the district may have to delay buying new textbooks. The district relies heavily on the state's textbook loan program, but now it will have about $100,000 less for books.

Overall, the district will probably lose about $500,000. That may mean cuts in teacher training.

The district may have to delay having teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards while it looks to balance its budget without spending down savings.

"The point of fund balances are for emergency situations," Schlomann said. "Is this really an emergency? For me, it's not."

Cuts: Dist. 304 official says state funding gap can be bridged with help of $34 million rainy-day fund