At Julian Oct 9, Part 3: Unfunded mandates, state aid, the TIF

Perennial issues for Oak Park schools

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By Jim Bowman


. . . at Julian Oct. 9, for not quite a closing to this tale of citizen involvement. (For Part One of the tale, go here. For Part two, here.)

Funding of state mandates: Depends on how you define mandate, said Sen. Lightford, a champion of compulsory schooling (and incidentally a mocker of home schooling). Compelling attendance raises cost of kindergarten, for instance. "It became very popular" to raise such costs as unfunded. She's "lukewarm" about the problem, likes a "happy-medium" solution, she said.

Sen. Harmon draws the line at "significant" added costs, he said. Not wanting to put the questioner -- one of three from CLAIM -- "on the spot," he asked for examples. She turned to ask the superintendent, who may have stepped out and in any case was not to be seen and did not respond.

Rep. Ford responded "as a teacher" innocuously -- which made sense enough in view of the apparent unavailability of the superintendent after Harmon asked for specifics: "We want to meet the needs of all children. . . . We all listen . . . "

Ditto Rep. Lilly: "We have to look at the entire picture . . . "

State funding for public schools: Lightford complained about the formula for allocation, based on "40- to 50-year-old poverty figures." For Oak Park with its 21% poverty rate vs. the state average 49%, state aid "may be" less. ("May be"?) But "is it fair" that Oak Park gets as much as it does, she asked, considering it's lower-than-average poverty rate? Then she launched into numbing detail about the process of deciding how the funds ($4 billion this year) are apportioned.

Harmon agreed that the formula is "complicated" but took note also of the "teacher pension subsidy" for districts outside Chicago as complicating the matter further by adding to district costs.

Lilly said she would "like to put on the table a corporate round table," meaning apparently a gathering of big-business executives who would contribute to state funding.

More state funding, or getting slice of the pie: The forum as such seemed to end, with comments by CLAIM member John Moss, -- trim, gray-haired, beard neatly cut, in gray suit, light gray shirt and nicely contrasting middle-gray tie, slim and soft-spoken -- who went into great detail about how to influence legislation!

He also pitched heavily for members for CLAIM, giving his voice a lilt here and there -- to soothing effect -- but did drone on. In the course of which he said something about state aid -- a longtime sore point and major issue for the district -- that got a response from the ed-funding insider Lightford.

"There's always an excuse for not raising the allocation for education," she said, launching into another demonstration of inside-baseball data. She came around again to the "funding formula," which she said is the "real issue," adding that "distribution is the problem" and that it will "always" be a problem "as long as there is local control" of schools.

Perhaps anticipating eyebrow-raising from her local-district audience, she promptly added that she supports local control, but wants "fair distribution" of funds, citing for some reason the city of Chicago's "neglect" of Austin. And on and on she went.

Lilly said she is "behind efforts" to be rid of "tax breaks for corporate America," adding that "we need to get corporate America involved." For the first time in the evening, she reverted to stump style, hands moving, eyes ablaze, the cheerleader in full blast.

"You're referring to TIF [tax-increment financing], right?" asked Harmon, looking down the table, then said what he's said before, "We must be sure it's used for its intended purposes."

"TIFs are good," Lightford said, "but for me [for her money, she means] a TIF should not take too much money from schools." (Easy sell, that "too much." Who wants too much of anything?)

Harmon responded that TIF renewals are regularly signed off by the other taxing bodies, to which Lilly, her voice rising, added: "If we [were to] prioritize education, TIF wouldn't be an issue."

If only.

-- To be concluded --

Email: Twitter: @BlitheSp

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