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We need a capital bill

Monday, Mar 11, 2019

* John O’Connor on a state capital program for school construction

Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and a school-reform-minded Legislature concocted it in 1997. It promises a cost match of 35 percent to 75 percent, depending on local resources, for school districts adding classrooms for a growing enrollment or replacing outmoded structures. The state borrows the money by selling general obligation bonds.

Conceived as a $3 billion effort, it got a boost in 2001 from former GOP Gov. George Ryan’s $12 billion Illinois FIRST construction program. All told, from 1998 through 2003, there was $6.7 billion in school construction, with the state pouring in $3.5 billion, according to the AP analysis.

But school administrators dreaming of a huge payday from a Pritzker plan would do well to study the numbers from the last time the program saw substantial funding. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now construction program in 2010 was, at $31 billion, 2 ½ times larger than Illinois FIRST. It yielded just $1.3 billion in state funds toward a $2.7 billion investment overall for schools.

* The backlog is huge

Illinois State Board of Education records indicate that since 2004, 270 Illinois school districts have applied for 285 state school construction grants without funding. Based on the average cost of the 606 projects funded since the program debuted in 1998 and adjusted for inflation, The Associated Press estimates the unfunded projects are worth nearly $6 billion, of which the state, based on history, would theoretically pay about $3.1 billion.

* And who even knows what the current need is?

The need among public schools is likely much greater than the wish-list suggests. There have been only 40 grant applications since 2011, likely reflecting school districts’ attitude that there’s no sense applying if there’s no money forthcoming.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

21 Comments »
  1. - Steve - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 11:54 am:

    It doesn’t appear that Illinois can afford much with its’ backlog of bills and pension obligations. That’s what living beyond your means does.


  2. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 12:01 pm:

    Steve, there will be a tax hike for this.


  3. - Annonin' - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 12:06 pm:

    You skipped the excellent piece about the Old State Capitol in IL Times and check the rust showing through the chipping paint at 222 S. COLLEGE


  4. - DuPage Bard - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    So property taxes and referendums aren’t covering the bill? Out here in DuPage every school district seems to be running one and many end up winning.
    Why aren’t school districts across the state doing the same? Or maybe they are and they aren’t successful?


  5. - Platon - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 12:42 pm:

    DuPage Bard, I think a lot of districts are losing the votes as property taxes are unbearable now.


  6. - Dan Johnson - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 12:45 pm:

    Remember the federal government doesn’t invest a dime into K-12 capital needs. $718B proposed military budget in Trump’s latest budget. So yeah. We have the money. We just spend it on different priorities.


  7. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:00 pm:

    =DuPage Bard, I think a lot of districts are losing the votes as property taxes are unbearable now.=

    Many districts, especially downstate, have deferred necessary maintenance for decades, all in the name of “low taxes” which did nothing to bring good jobs. This creates a situation where the buildings cannot be repaired properly for less than the cost of replacement. Unless of course repair means simply fixing the roof but nothing to keep buildings up-to-date for current needs. Buildings and building systems are well beyond their functional life.

    Pay me know or pay me later.


  8. - Platon - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:02 pm:

    Many of those districts have very few students. Something has to give.


  9. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:08 pm:

    =Many of those districts have very few students. Something has to give.=

    Yeah, we have heard this same refrain for decades.

    There are some that could consolidate, what do you think that will save?

    Consolidated districts get the higher paying salary schedule.

    Transportation costs increase not decrease because density drops even further.

    Communities (not administrators) want to keep their schools.

    The geography becomes a huge issue, ask Olympia schools.

    Anyone can say consolidate, but they want someone else to consolidate and they want someone else to do it.

    Ever go through a consolidation? Most don’t go very smoothly.

    But it is easy to say and the savings are never what people think.


  10. - City Zen - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:24 pm:

    ==Remember the federal government doesn’t invest a dime into K-12 capital needs.==

    Would you like a loan from the social security “trust fund”?


  11. - Demoralized - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:31 pm:

    Platon:

    Districts can consolidate now. But it’s a local decision. You’ll never pass a bill that requires mandatory consolidation. People are very protective of their schools which is why you don’t see a whole lot of districts that consolidate.


  12. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:33 pm:

    =People are very protective of their schools which is why you don’t see a whole lot of districts that consolidate.=

    And it does not save much money versus putting kids on a bus even longer…usually.


  13. - RNUG - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:34 pm:

    == There are some that could consolidate, what do you think that will save? ==

    Are there places where you have overlaying / overlapping grade school and high school districts? That seems like low hanging fruit. Could some savings be achieved there?


  14. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 1:45 pm:

    =Could some savings be achieved there?=

    Cook county has a lot of dual districts (high school districts/pre k-8 districts) but making them k-12 would create some very large districts that would be less efficient or at least less effective. Look for small districts where there are less than 500 kids and merge them with a neighbor. The geography is still small so transportation won’t break you, but more importantly the learning will not suffer. You probably won’t close any buildings but you could share services and eliminate some admin costs.

    Same goes for the collar counties.

    Outside of that you can look at places like Pontiac where they have a high school district and feeder elementary districts. One feeder, Rooks Creek, is less than 75 kids and it is close so geography isn’t going to hurt you.

    There are little pockets of schools like this around the state where smart consolidation would work.

    But when districts get geographically large there are negatives that outweigh nominal cost savings. In some cases it can cause costs to rise.


  15. - BenFolds5 - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 3:06 pm:

    JS Wouldn’t you agree that most of the studies look at the state? Meaning south of I 80 man, transportation costs are crazy. But, take some collar counties. This isn’t 2 districts that are fighting for the deficits.They are both in the “black” New Trier and Stevenson. Single districts with over 110 Mil budgets can’t consolidate with their K-8 counterparts as a savings? They can. Just those folks can and choose to pay for their separate “districts”. Maybe raise taxes enough they may consider it?


  16. - theCardinal - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 3:22 pm:

    If your going down this path for school construction a word of advice, Get your money up front, the state is notorius for comming up a little short or delaying the payment when its time to actually write the check.


  17. - Chicagonk - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 3:44 pm:

    The CSFT has been implemented by 54 counties and counting including Sangamon in November. It works well and other counties that haven’t put it to referendum yet should do it before going to Springfield looking for money.


  18. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 4:10 pm:

    =Single districts with over 110 Mil budgets can’t consolidate with their K-8 counterparts as a savings? They can.=

    Show me your analysis. Tell me about your experience in K-12 operations, instruction and finance that brings you to the absolute conclusion that “they can”.

    Here is a place to look- what do the salary schedules of the feeder districts look like compared to the high school? That is important because the k-8 schedules are probably lower than the high school which means a lot of people will be getting raises and will easily offset losing a couple of superintendents.

    The list of other considerations is very long and CAN BE COSTLY. It just does not work in the simplistic fashion that some people imagine.

    Now, if salaries and benefits are similar and they are all paying for outside service that could be brought in house and shared….then you can save money.

    In addition, those communities don’t care much about consolidating. The state does not provide much of the funding either.


  19. - Platon - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 5:14 pm:

    Demoralized, just another reason Illinois is a failed state. We can’t continue our current path, it doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked. The state has a declining school age population, State government should withdraw funding of any school district that doesn’t cooperate with consolidation.


  20. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 7:26 pm:

    @Platon- yeah sure, just find the votes to pass that one into law. You will not get one ILGOP vote.


  21. - It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way - Monday, Mar 11, 19 @ 8:11 pm:

    852 school districts in IL. We trail only CA, TX, and OH. Now honestly, if proponents of school consolidation are willing to walk the talk, then I’d truly love to hear the plan for a single school district in Cook County. New Trier consolidates with Evanston and CPS and Proviso and TF South and so on. One district to Cook County.

    Much as I’d love to see that (truly), it won’t happen. We know this.

    Same thing in DuPage and Lake (esp on the North Shore).

    Seriously. It’s easy to talk a mean game about school consolidation outside of Chicago metro area. There’s a little hypocrisy here, though, unless we’re truly willing to allow for as much in the region of the state that I’d assume would have the most school districts.


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