Rauner Speaks to School Superintendents in Bloomington

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner speakin to school superintendents in Bloomington.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, flanked by GOP lawmakers from central Illinois and area school superintendents, speaks at the Regional Alternative School in Bloomington, which serves students in DeWitt, Logan, Livingston and McLean Counties.

Charlie Schlenker / WGLT

After a speech to school superintendents at the regional alternative school in Bloomington Tuesday, Governor Bruce Rauner told one of them "hang on, it's going to get rocky." Rauner was referring to the lack of authorized school funding, something he used in the speech to blast House Speaker Mike Madigan. Rauner several times remarked that he refused to bail out Chicago Schools.

"They're slow rollin' the process. They want a crisis in the schools. They want a crisis in the government to leverage a Chicago bailout and leverage a big tax hike without any reforms," said Rauner.

Rauner slammed Senate President John Cullerton for a remark that schools should not open without change to the school funding formula.

"That is wrong. That is corrupt. That is a conflict of interest using political leverage to damage other communities and we can't let that happen," said Rauner.

Democrats argue Rauner has been doing just that in his refusal to enact a budget without elements of his turnaround agenda.

Rauner also said he thought lawmakers working on a new school funding formula were within days of a deal with Speaker Madigan put his thumb on the process to slow it down. Rauner said it's all about the November election.

The Governor urged central Illinois residents to put pressure on Democratic lawmakers.  Rauner ended the speech by saying the problem is a bipartisan creation over a lot of years and will require that approach to solve.

The school superintendents who heard Rauner’s speech said if schools don't open in the fall because of a lack of state funding, children will be hungry. That's because many schools offer breakfast and lunches to children from low income families. Educators also said there will be more violence on the streets in some areas with high poverty levels.

LeRoy Schools Superintendent Gary Tipsord says he's not sure that the governor and lawmakers understand the second and third level impacts created by a failure to pass school funding.

"When you are talking about an industry that not only provides the educational services for students but tremendous social services for kids and families in the state, that crisis is a lot more extensive than just what you see on the surface," Tipsord said.

Tipsord added that everything from childcare to educational attainment years later, to the ability of parents to work is potentially threatened by a school shutdown.

Regional Superintendent of Schools for DeWitt, Logan, Livingston & McLean Counties Mark Jontry said the regional alternative school and other programs he oversees might have to close by the next spring break.

"We had to do a six month contract because come the end of the fall semester we would not be in a position to continue our programming as it currently exists," said Jontry.

Tipsord said LeRoy schools would open even without a K-12 funding bill. But the state funds about 74 days of the school year, and to stay open for a full year with that funding would require extraordinary measures. Tipsord said his school board has chosen to make hard choices to keep going. He said LeRoy operates at an annual deficit of $300,000 a year and has done so for some years, because the state has pro-rated the support it is supposed to give. He said continuing to do that will eventually break the district.

Other school superintendents said they could get through most of a school year only by exhausting their reserves and leaving nothing for the future.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio