Rock Island schools brace for severe cuts under Illinois budget

Illinois school districts face losing $210 million under the new state budget. If approved by Gov. Pat Quinn, it will force severe cuts for local Illinois schools.

The state budget would literally double the deficit for Rock Island schools. With cash reserves being stretched to the limit, it could threaten up to 50 teaching jobs by the 2013-14 school year.

The Rock Island Academy Summer School shows how the district makes every dollar count. More than a dozen community agencies help to fund the free program.

But as Illinois prepares to add an extra $2.2 million to the district’s deficit, it becomes a shocking sign of the times.

“If this goes through, we will have some severe cuts next year in order to balance the budget,” said Bob Beckwith, the district’s chief financial officer.

Severe cuts that could slice 10% of its teaching staff over the next year. Across the board reductions that also cut into staffing and programs.

“I see a lot of my friends and co-workers that might not have opportunity to have employment for another year,” said Natoshia Leshoure, a special education paraprofessional who joined the district in 1998.

The budget battle reinforces the call to change the way Illinois funds public schools. When the state makes cuts, it hurts Rock Island and other districts even more.

The property tax-based funding hits less wealthy districts in the wallet. If the pattern continues, Rock Island could be forced into short-term borrowing after the 2013-14 school year.

“55% of our money comes from the state and federal government,” Beckwith said. “When they make reductions, that’s a devastating effect on our budget.”

Ultimately, it can tamper with learning. That uncertainty about the future worries staffers like Leshoure at Rock Island Academy.

“It really does give me a sense of fear because I don’t know where they’ll end up,” she said.

The call for pension reform could cause Illinos school districts even more troubles. It’s a situation that could add millions more to district deficits.

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