Legislative Breakfast addresses state budget uncertainty

Legislators attending the District 58 Board of Education Legislative Breakfast addressed the Illinois state budget, potential property tax freezes, potential pension cost shifts, and the future of the PARCC assessment, among other topics. The event took place on Friday, March 10 at O’Neill Middle School.

The Legislative Breakfast annually invites the District 58 Board of Education, staff, middle school student council representatives, PTA representatives, village leaders and community members to learn about elected officials’ insights on current education issues affecting District 58. About 80 guests attended this year’s event. The O’Neill Jazz Band and Chamber Orchestra provided pre-event entertainment. Herrick and O’Neill Student Council members introduced the legislators.

Rep. David Olsen and Rep. Patti Bellock participated in a panel discussion regarding state education legislation, answering five prepared questions asked by District 58’s Legislative Committee members. Although U.S. Congressman Bill Foster could not attend the event, his District Chief of Staff Carole Cheney joined the panel and contributed insights from a federal perspective.

The legislators acknowledged that Illinois’s budget crisis is the state’s top issue.

“Illinois is the worst in the nation for state funding of education,” Rep. Olsen said. “We need to improve our commitment to education at the state level. There needs to be broad reform of the state budget in order to responsibly allocate appropriate funding to our schools.”

The Legislative Committee raised questions regarding two proposed Senate Bills that each would have a devastating effect on District 58. In one bill, Illinois would freeze property taxes in Illinois during the 2017 and 2018 levy years. In the other, the State would shift pension costs to local school districts.

District 58 receives nearly 84 percent of its funding from local property taxes and an additional 5 percent from other local sources. Yet, District 58 has the fourth lowest tax rate among 30 elementary districts in DuPage County. Legislatively freezing revenue increases when salary, benefits and service costs continue to rise would have a significantly negative impact on District 58, especially if compounded by increased pension costs.

Rep. Bellock noted that both Senate Bills are part of the Grand Bargain, a package of 13 bills that aims to resolve the current budget impasse. The bills are united so that if one fails, the entire budget package will fail.

“I’ve never seen a budget package like the Grand Bargain. It’s become a very political issue,” Rep. Bellock said.

Rep. Bellock affirmed that she supports local control of education, adding that the state must create a budget that will fund the state’s school districts.

Rep. Olsen said that Illinois has the nation’s highest property taxes, which is an issue of large concern to himself and his constituents. He reiterated that the state needs to evaluate the property tax issue as part of a broader solution to the state’s fiscal crisis.

As a newer representative, the Legislative Committee asked Rep. Olsen how he has informed himself on public education issues. Rep. Olsen discussed his participation on the District 58 Education Foundation as well as on the Elementary & Secondary Education Licensing, Administration and Oversight Committee. He also said that he highly values personal relationships, and he has made an effort to connect with superintendents, staff and parents from school districts within his jurisdiction.

Finally, when asked about the PARCC assessment, the panel agreed that the test is controversial and its future is still uncertain in Illinois.

District Chief of Staff Ms. Cheney shared a statement from Congressman Bill Foster regarding his vision for federal education policy. She said that Congressman Foster supports the continuation of existing federal school programs, such as free breakfast and lunch programs for students in need, and he opposes school vouchers due to the negative impact they would have on public schools.

Superintendent Dr. Kari Cremascoli thanked the legislators for their participation and offered closing remarks.

“When programs that are good for kids are inadequately funded, when funding formulas and education funding are dramatically changed, and when unfunded mandates draw upon the limited resources that do exist, students are impacted,” Dr. Cremascoli said. “We are asking today for your support in helping us fulfill the promise of public education in our community.”