Stacy McGowan’s eighth-grade daughter is worried she won’t be able to enroll in chorus and art classes — her favorites — when she starts her freshman year at Belvidere High School in the fall. Her daughter’s elective classes may be in jeopardy because Illinois, in a crippling economic bind, owes its public school districts a budget-busting $871 million in delinquent aid as of Wednesday.
Stacy McGowan’s eighth-grade daughter is worried she won’t be able to enroll in chorus and art classes — her favorites — when she starts her freshman year at Belvidere High School in the fall.
Her daughter’s elective classes may be in jeopardy because Illinois, in a crippling economic bind, owes its public school districts a budget-busting $871 million in delinquent aid as of Wednesday, including $2.8 million to Belvidere. The district has already sent pink slips to 57 nontenured teachers.
But Belvidere is not alone. Other districts have approved or are considering drastic cuts to make up for an anticipated drop in tax revenue — and the state’s delay in paying its bills.
It all adds up to a “double whammy” of economic pain for Illinois’ public schools, state Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, said.
“Almost every school district in the state of Illinois is talking about layoffs,” Wait said.
The Illinois comptroller’s office has a $4.3 billion backlog of bills that haven’t been paid, and some of those date back as far as Sept. 1, spokesman Alan Henry said.
“We’re paying the things that have to be paid every month,” Henry said, and education funding has to compete with other state priorities, including debt payments, Medicaid reimbursements and a working state government.
The state makes its general state aid payments to school districts twice a month — money that districts can use for anything they need, Regional Superintendent Richard Fairgrieves said. Most of that money goes to a district’s education fund, which covers day-to-day operations such as employee salaries and benefits.
But the state isn’t paying the required quarterly payments for mandated programs, such as special education, transportation and free breakfast and lunch.
School districts have received three such payments this academic year, but two were actually back pay from the 2008-09 school year, Fairgrieves said.
The Rockton, Harlem, Oregon and Belvidere school districts have already outlined staff cuts for the 2010-11 school year.
By April 1, districts typically notify nontenured teachers whose contracts will not be renewed, and many of those teachers are hired back for the next school year as the district’s financial picture comes into focus.
But the number of teachers and education staff to be laid off is probably higher this year because of the state’s budget woes, said Matt Vanover, state Board of Education spokesman.
Harlem officials told 57 nontenured teachers, 72 paraprofessionals, three bus drivers and five bus assistants they’d be out of a job next school year. Oregon School Board members approved a reduction in force of 10 certified teachers and eight noncertified staffers. The Rockton School Board approved cutting five and a half certified staff positions.
The Harlem School Board will vote Monday and the Rockford School Board will vote Tuesday to reduce probationary teaching staff.
Those districts and others across Illinois may rehire pink-slipped probationary teachers if Illinois makes good on its delinquent aid payments or districts’ financial standing improves, Fairgrieves said.
In the meantime, districts have to plan for the worst.
“It’s the only responsible thing to do,” he said.
Reach Rockford Register Star staff writer Cathy Bayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1395.