Fieldcrest response
  to potential cuts   
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Quality Education, The State of Fieldcrest, and the State of the State

Members of the Fieldcrest Board of Education have spent the last week answering calls from concerned parents. Potential educational “cuts,” the “ripple effect” of teachers “bumping” from building to building, and the suggestion that “several new classrooms will stand empty” has sparked renewed interest and a healthy debate about quality education in our district and the accountability of our Superintendent and elected school board members: After everything our communities have done to support Fieldcrest, and address the needs of children across the district, how could we be so misguided as to consider making cuts that will affect the quality of our children’s education!? Frankly, we are relieved to see this question being asked with such passionate concern and collective enthusiasm. It is a question we all need to ask, to wrestle with, and to act upon.

Before providing a few facts and figures for us to wrestle with, it is important to point out that the following commentary should be considered from a proper perspective: The intent here is not to defend a particular position regarding potential “cuts” to the way we educate our children. Most of us would agree, trying to defend cuts in education is ridiculous and, for the most part, indefensible. Rather, the intent is to provide a broader scope of information that will take the debate to a more informed level and help the community to channel our energy and emotions in a positive direction.

It’s true, the school district has carried fund balances over from year to year. We currently have reserve balances in our budgeted funds. Our most recent audit indicates that we began this year with a balance of $652,225 in our education fund and $478,898 in working cash. Two times in the past five years our community has had the foresight to take advantage of state building grants for new schools. We have approved building bonds, increasing our property tax, to take care of the most pressing building needs in our district. Keeping in mind our fund balances and the impact of building referendums on the tax rate, the school board has not consistently levied the maximum allowable rates in our education fund. The Fieldcrest community has been sensitive to the needs and generous in their support. In the same respect, the Board of Education has tried to be prudent and fair in providing some level of local tax relief when possible.

At first glance reserve balances of $652,225 in the education fund and $478,898 in working cash appear to be very healthy. Together they total $1,131,123. However, these fund balances need to be looked at in the context of our total annual budget. Excluding building bond expenditures, the total audited expenses for Fieldcrest last year came to $8,210,839. This represents average monthly expenditures of $684,237. Education fund expenditures totaled $6,695,837. A monthly average of $557,986. As confirmed by our annual audit, we began this year with approximately two months reserve.

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Last spring we settled a three year contract with the Fieldcrest Education Association. The settlement addressed a need to keep the salary and benefits of our staff at a competitive level for the area. It added approximately $200,000 in salary expense to this year’s budget alone. This does not include the increased cost of health insurance, utilities, supplies, etc. All of this has had an impact on our reserve balances.

Looking at the education fund, which represents 80% of our budget, we began the year with the carry over balance of $625,225. We did not max out the tax rate for this school year, and our expenses have increased resulting in a projected $270,000 deficit or spend down of our surplus balance. Now we need to look at a few factors that we did not foresee. There is a state budget crisis. In an attempt to balance out some of the shortfalls in the state budget for the current year, Governor Ryan has proposed $25 million in cuts to education. We have been informed that the state is likely to “hold” our final state aid payment for this year as well as the final payments on our grant funded programs such as reading improvement, agricultural education, alternative schools, and gifted education. If this happens it will add to the already projected $270,000 deficit or spend down of our education fund balance. This reduction of our surplus funds, along with the increasing cost of living expense, leaves the district with an approximate one month financial reserve as we plan for next year.

As we look ahead to next year, Governor Ryan’s proposed budget reduces funding for education by $40 million. The House of Representatives has responded with their own budget plan that allows for an increase in the base level of per pupil funding by reducing funds for some grant programs and eliminating others. In the end, this budget plan shifts funding priorities but supports the overall proposed $40 million cut in educational funding. The Senate is still working on their own budget plan. Eventually the House, the Senate, and Governor Ryan will negotiate the final budget and determine the funding level and program priorities for our children.

In addition to the proposed cuts and uncertainties of our state funding, we need to factor in the reevaluation of farm land. The state has advised us to plan for a 10% decline in the EAV on farm land over the next three years. Over 60% of our EAV in Fieldcrest is based on farm land.

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Needless to say, responsible planning for next year is painfully perplexing. It appears that the Governor has support in the House of Representatives for a $40 million cut in education. As it stands right now, these proposed cuts include the elimination of at least 14 grant funded programs, funding that pays for teachers and program supplies. Further complicating this issue is the fact that state law requires a 60 day notice before the last day of school for tenured staff and a 45 day notice for non-tenured staff when we are faced with a reduction in the work force. The last day of school is May 31st. It will be at least July 1st before the House, the Senate, and the Governor complete the state’s budget negotiations. A complicated “Catch 22” that is being passed off on our community under the guise of providing us with “more local control.”

The Board of Education continues to hear and share in your concerns. At the local level your voice is coming through loud and clear. The time has come to take this debate to the next level. Our collective voices need to be heard in Springfield. They need to be heard right now, while budget negotiations are underway. The Fieldcrest Board of Education has, and continues to, advocate at the state level for major changes in the way our state funds education.

The state wide funding crisis is an opportunity for our legislators to step up and make meaningful reforms in educational funding. They also need to hear our voices loud and clear. Let us channel our “local control” in a positive direction for the sake of our children. Once again our community is faced with challenging times. This is not unfamiliar territory. Together we have overcome the challenges of the past. Let us use this opportunity as a “teachable moment,” once again demonstrating to our children the positive impact we can have on the world around us when we join together and actively participate in the affairs of our civil society.

Fieldcrest Board of Education

Legislative Contacts:

Governor George Ryan
207 Statehouse
Springfield, IL 62706
(800) 642-3112
Senator Claude Stone
106 Main Street
P.O. Box 152
Eureka, IL 61530
(309) 467-5464
*Representative Keith Sommer
1121 W. Jefferson
Morton, IL 61550
(309) 263-9242
(309) 263-8187 FAX

*Representative Keith Sommer sits on the House Appropriations Committee for Education