Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Suburban administrators say transportation cuts hit classrooms

By Meredith Colias

Suburban administrators struggling to cover transportation costs say they cannot bear deeper cuts next year.

Angela Smith, an assistant superintendent in the Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, told a House committee that reducing the money the state pays for regular school bus costs to her district will only force it to look for cuts in other parts of her budget, such as staffing and basic programs. She said cuts to the state transportation reimbursement should not give lawmakers a false sense that teachers and students would not be impacted. “It’s going to affect the classroom, there’s no way around it,” she said.

Gov. Pat Quinn proposed a cut to regular transportation funding that is almost as large as his proposed cut to General State Aid. Under his plan, aid would be cut by $150 million, while the money the state gives schools to transport kids would be reduced by about $145 million. Quinn’s cut would take transportation funding from $206 million in the current fiscal year to more than $60 million in Fiscal Year 2014. However, the House education budgeting committee has led the way on the state education budget in recent years, and its proposal could be different from what the governor has pitched. “There are going to be cuts. We are experiencing enormous challenges here,” said Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican and a member of the committee.

At the same time the transportation budget is expected to decrease, more school districts statewide are struggling to cover costs. The state board of education is estimating two-thirds of school districts will run a deficit in the next fiscal year. Both Smith and Tom Leonard, superintendent of Barrington Community Unit School District 220, said they were concerned with safety issues and were straining to figure out how to transport students over larger areas in their districts as efficiently as possible. Districts are not able to charge parents to make up the difference for busing their children because it would also reduce their share of General State Aid. Districts have taken measures such as spreading bus stops out farther from each other in an attempt to streamline costs as much as possible. “We’re stretched that to the point where there’s not very much [more] that can be done,” Smith said.

“We are trying to be efficient. More cuts will lead to stranger things,” Leonard said. Smith said the “easy” and “hard” options have already been taken in many district’s budget. “All that’s left are the really hard things,” she said.

Rep. William Davis, who chairs the committee, said that he is sympathetic to the cuts. He said that he plans to advocate for new revenues as he has in past budget years. “We do understand what cuts do,” he said. Davis, a Homewood Democrat, suggested that administrators could lobby their own suburban representatives, most of whom are Republican.

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