Ballot draws attention to school funding

Braden Harp, Staff Reporter

A property tax referendum to ensure funds for the Kansas School District will be on the ballot on Election Day for Coles County voters.

The proposition from the Kansas School Board asks for property taxes to be increased to 2.19 percent for the next three years for Coles, Clark, and Edgar counties in Illinois.

According to Kansas School Board minutes from the past year, Kansas School District No. 3 has been trying to find a way to ensure the school district can remain active. Kansas School District superintendent Dwight Stricklin said the district’s educational fund has an estimated $140,000 deficit for the 2014-2015 school year.

Stricklin says if this referendum gets voted down, next year  the school district may not be able to function as an independent school district.

This tax referendum comes after the faculty has already taken an 4 percent pay reduction for the next two years. If this referendum passes, the faculty will take additional 4 percent pay decrease totaling 8 percent.

Jim Littleford, the Charleston School District superintendent, said the lack of funds for educational purposes is not isolated to the Kansas School District. He said the problem stems from the absence of support from the state of Illinois.

“The Charleston School District has lost $3.5 million in the last four years,” Littleford said.

Littleford said Charleston Schools have a bit more freedom when they deal with budget issues than a smaller district like Kansas would.

“In Charleston, I have a lot more leeway with budget reductions,” Littleford said, “Because we are a larger district, we can adjust class sizes and we have more faculty to maneuver.”

Littleford said the Charleston School District has tried something similar to Tuesday’s proposition in the past.

“We’ve tried a one percent sales tax increase for funding in 2010 and 2014,” Littleford said, “The latest vote was denied by around one thousand votes.”

David Bartz, an education leadership professor, said the education problem extends to more schools than just Charleston’s immediate vicinity.

“Last year for example, the state only gave all Illinois school districts only about 89 percent of what they are supposed to give them,” Bartz said.

According to the Kansas School Board minutes from the past year, Kansas School District’s deficit in educational funding for the 2012-2013 school year was $588,000. At the time of the meeting last April, the projected deficit was $410,000 for the 2013-2014 school year.

Bartz noted Illinois’ financial troubles extend beyond just educational funding. He said until Illinois resolves these issues, schools will continue to face financial hardship.

“The bottom line is, until the state gets more revenue it’s going to be tough for schools,” Bartz said.

Braden Harp can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].