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Local school reps lobbying state lawmakers : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Local school reps lobbying state lawmakers
Push for major change in state's method of paying for schools

by Lyle R. Rolfe


Oswego School District Board Member Greg O'Neil, Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt, Oswego School District teachers union representatives and two Plainfield School District officials are scheduled to meet today (Thursday) with state lawmakers in Springfield to discuss school funding.

O'Neil said the group will meet with several state representatives and senators representing the school district to discuss the state's method for funding public education.

He said the Illinois Senate Committee on Education Funding Reform has been working to resolve the funding inequities in Illinois' current school funding formula. The state committee has said it is open to suggestions that would modify the formula to provide a fairer and more equitable way of distributing General State Aid (GSA), so he also wants to meet with them.

O'Neil also was scheduled to meet this morning with Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, a member of the Senate Education Funding Advisory Committee to discuss a bill Manar plans to introduce to address the funding issue.

O'Neil had sent Manar a letter last month on behalf of the school district suggesting how new legislation could help districts such as Oswego and Plainfield.

"When we meet in Springfield, I'm going to tell them how we think they could do it but we don't really care how they do it as long as we don't get left out. They're going to change the formula (for funding school districts) and we want to be sure we don't end up with less money. That would be a disaster," he said.

O'Neil compared his own plan to change the state's school funding method to Robin Hood because it would entail the state reducing the GSA payments given to the wealthy districts and giving more to those who are not fortunate enough to have large commercial, industrial or other large tax-paying entities in their districts.

O'Neil said his funding plan would take the large amount of commercial property in the area and spread it out.

"Naperville is located along I-88 (the East-West Tollway) and most of development is in Naperville. I-88 goes through other communities, but Naperville gets most of the tax income from the development and we should all benefit from it," he said, adding that this was to be his message to the state officials.

"We all paid taxes to get I-88 built so we should all benefit from the development that occurred as a result of the road. The pot of money is not going to change so someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. Under any allocation the wealthy districts are going to get less. They're not going to take from the poor district to give to other poor districts," he said.

O'Neil noted that Naperville has $25,000 to spend per student compared to $8,000 for Oswego or one-third as much.

"This is a pubic school system, not a private school so that seems a bit out of whack," he said.

He admitted a reallocation probably would not be an even split, but said it should be within 10-15 percent of each district, not with Naperville getting 300 percent as much.

O'Neil said he felt the time was right to get support from both parties in light of the coming November election and the large number of voters in this area.

He said that out of 14 area school districts, Oswego ranks 12th based on its total EAV (Equalized Assessed Valuation) of property, total student enrollment, and how much they spend per pupil. These figures were from 2010-11, the latest available, for all the districts.

"We believe that any education funding reform needs to consider the impact of individual homeowners and their tax burden. The local ability to pay and the property wealth consideration in funding should account for the nature of the property being taxed.

"Doing so could provide substantial relief to homeowners in areas without a strong commercial or industrial base.

"We have a huge voting constituency here. We can make our voices heard and I think we should take advantage of it," O'Neil said.

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