School administrators baffled by state budget announcement

By Carly O'Keefe - bio | email

SESSER, IL (KFVS) - Sesser-Valier Schools Superintendent Jason Henry hoped Governor Pat Quinn's most recent budget address would give a clearer picture for crunching numbers. Instead, he and many other school superintendents are left with more questions.

First and foremost: Quinn's budget says the state will still pay the same amount per student but Henry isn't so sure.

"I don't know how that can happen," Henry said. "The state failed to identify a revenue stream to make up for lost stimulus money."

Cuts to programs mandated by state or federal law, called mandated categorical grants, at the k-12 level also have Henry wondering how his school will pay for those programs.

"The governor reduced that budget by $327 million statewide," said Henry. "Of those programs, two impact our transportation programs; two impact our Special Ed. personnel. With that amount disappearing from the state level, I can't imagine it won't trickle down to my school district."

But according to Henry, the biggest state sponsored question mark is a recent rule change. There's a new law that says if the state can't afford to pay what it said it would, it can chose to divvy up what's left evenly but not necessarily pay all that's owed.

"The state and governor have the authority to prorate those funds at the end of the fiscal year," said Henry. "If the comptroller says the state doesn't have enough money to pay the state aide, the state has the authority to say sorry Sesser schools; you're not going to get what's promised. Then at the end of the year we're left holding the bag."

Sesser-Valier previously laid off eight teachers and three members of the school support staff to balance the budget after a state funding shortfall in FY2010. Henry says if state funding falls shorter than expected in FY2011, the district will have to dip into its reserves again to stave off more staff reductions or be faced with increased class sizes.

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