News Local/State

While Champaign Schools Wait For State Money, Property Taxes Keep Buses Moving, Staff In Place

Champaign Central High School.

Champaign Central High School and other schools around the district are waiting on well over $4 million in overdue state funding, but the Unit 4 School District has a deep property tax base that has so far allowed it to deal with those losses. Travis Stansel/Illinois Public Media

The state of Illinois has racked up more than $14 billion in unpaid bills since the budget impasse began nearly two years ago. The state owes the money to social service agencies, businesses, hospitals and school districts.

The state Comptroller’s office says the state owes the Champaign Unit 4 School District about $4.8 million, making the district one of the state's bigger creditors in eastern Illinois. Unit 4 Chief Financial Officer Tom Lockman spoke to Illinois Public media about the money and how the district is getting by without it as part of ongoing series on the effects of the budget impasse.

The money the district is waiting on is for so-called “categoricals” like transportation and special education staff. This money falls outside the regular public schools budget, which the state has continued to provide through the almost two years of the budget impasse.

While other districts waiting for money — particularly smaller ones — have had to scarmble to avoid cutting services or staff, Lockman says his district has a cushion for these needs that many others do not.

“Because of the strength of our property tax base, we’re not as reliant on state funding so we are not as directly impacted by delinquencies in payments or non-payments,” he said.

But this shaky status quo would be upset if lawmakers fail to come up with another public schools budget for the next school year.

Lockman says if that happens, some schools might not open this fall — putting lawmakers under pressure to finally come up with a full state budget.

“I would have to believe that something would get resolved, certainly at a quicker pace than things seem to be moving right now,” he said.