SPRINGFIELD - There will be a lot of new faces in front of suburban classrooms today.
Hundreds of local teachers are taking the day off - with pay - to join thousands of their colleagues and other special interest groups at a Capitol rally to back higher taxes and protest budget cuts. The event, organized by labor unions, social service providers, senior groups and others, is expected to draw more than 10,000 for what's touted as one of the biggest Capitol rallies ever.
"Education is pretty important and we ought to be a priority," said Tom Tully, head of the teachers union at Glenbard High School District 87, which is sending 10 teachers to the rally. The union is covering the cost of substitutes, $115 each.
A spot check of suburban districts found similar examples throughout the region.
In Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second largest school system, officials said they knew of 150 teachers planning to attend and that the union would cover the $90 per substitute. Union officials, however, said nearly 250 teachers would head to Springfield.
Similarly, in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, 25 teachers and nine support staff are taking personal days to attend the rally, said district spokeswoman Terri McHugh. A substitute teacher is paid $103 a day there and a substitute support position gets $69 a day. The unions offered to cover the costs.
"We are taking them up on that," said McHugh.
Naperville Unit District 203 will have 35 teachers and nearly a dozen support staff out for the rally, district and union officials said. The union is paying for substitutes.
"In this environment, we want to make sure we assume those costs and don't burden the district on anything," said local union President Dave Griffith.
Barrington Area Unit District 220 officials reported only two teachers and two support staff requesting days off. The local union is covering substitute costs.
In St. Charles District 303, 23 teachers and four support staff notified the district they'll be at the rally. Assistant Superintendent Brian Harris said the union is reimbursing the district $2,070 for substitutes.
Harris said the administration supports the effort, so long as it doesn't take too many out of the classroom.
"Certainly, if it benefits our local district, it's worth it," he said.
School officials and teachers are angry over proposed budget cuts and payment backlogs that threaten thousands of school jobs across the suburbs. Last year, lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn used $1 billion in federal stimulus funding to plug state funding shortfalls in education. Now, the stimulus money is gone and education faces cuts as the state tries to figure out how to balance a nearly $13 billion deficit in an operating budget of just under $30 billion.
Making the local budget situation worse is that the state simply doesn't have the money to keep up with the current budget. That's resulted in a $4.5 billion payment backlog, including $1.3 billion owed to schools.
"The bottom line is, it hurts the kids," said St. Charles Education Association President Pam Turriff. "We just want to make the legislators aware that we all feel they need to step up to the plate and fund education for all kids."
Quinn has proposed a 1 percentage-point income tax increase, up to 4 percent from 3 percent, earmarked specifically for education. So far there's been no movement on that, or any other tax plan this session.
Today's rally is to try to pressure action.
"I don't think anybody wants to raise taxes in this day and age, but we don't see any other solutions they are going to be able to come up with, especially in an election year," said Glenbard High's Tully.
Quinn said the rally will show "there's a lot of people in Illinois - a great majority - that don't want draconian cuts in education."
While the rally is sure to draw widespread media coverage, its effect on spurring a tax hike remains to be seen. Several suburban lawmakers said no matter how big the rally, the people that elected them don't want their taxes raised.
"It'll be a powerful message," state Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat, said of the rally. "But I pay attention to the people I meet at the front door."
No elected officials are being given speaking roles at the rally. "We don't need any more talk from them," said Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford.
The House and Senate will be in session during the event and so many people are expected that access to the building could be cut off. Streets around the Capitol are being closed.
The Capitol is no stranger to rallies of all sizes and causes. On almost a daily basis, some group is making its case and the protests become part of the political backdrop. In recent years, separate marches by gun advocates and union members have packed the grounds. Among the rallies noted for their size are a late 1990s rally backing then-Gov. Jim Edgar's education tax increase and an early 1980s rally for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Daily Herald staff writers Kerry Lester, Robert Sanchez, Madhu Krishnamurthy, Bob Susnjara, Adam DeRose, Larissa Chinwah, Marco Santana, Kimberly Pohl, Ashok Selvam, Lee Filas, Josh Stockinger, Melissa Jenco, Susan Sarkauskas, Tony Gordon and Timothy Magaw contributed to this report.
Who's going from local schools
Here's a sampling of suburban school districts and the number of teachers and staff who notified officials that they would be absent today to attend the budget rally at the Capitol today.
Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59: No notice of teachers attending.
Maine Township High School District 207: Two or three teachers attending. District will cover the costs of $105 per substitute.
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211: 16 teachers attending. Union paying for substitutes.
Palatine Township Elementary District 15: No notice of teachers attending.
Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54: 25 teachers and nine support staff attending via personal days. Union paying for substitutes, $103 per day for teachers, $69 per day for support staff.
Glenbard High School District 87: 10 teachers attending. Union covering substitute costs of $115 per day.
Naperville Unit District 203: 35 teachers and up to a dozen support staff attending. Union covering substitute costs of nearly $3,500 total.
Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200: No more than 20 attending. Union offered to cover substitute costs of $85 a day.
Antioch Community Consolidated School District 34: No notice of teachers attending.
Barrington Area Unit District 220: Two teachers and two support staff requested time off. Unions paying for substitutes.
Lake Zurich Unit District 95: No notice of teachers attending.
Round Lake Area Unit District 116: No notice of teachers attending.
Woodland Elementary District 50: Three teachers attending. Substitute costs covered in teacher contract.
Batavia School District 101: 8 teachers attending. Union covering substitute costs.
Community Unit District 300: 64 teachers attending. Union paying substitute costs of $95 to $98 per day.
Elgin Area School District U-46: Nearly 250 expected to attend. Union paying for 150 substitutes at $90 per day. District to cover additional substitutes.
Geneva School District 304: 5 teachers. District paying $378.50 total for substitutes.
St. Charles School District 303: 23 teachers and four support staff attending. Union covering substitute costs of $90 a day. Total reimbursement $2,070.
West Aurora District 129: 10 teachers attending. Union covering substitute costs.
Source: Area schools districts, education associations.