Illinois is on the financial brink with its schools paying the price.
State Senator Mike Jacobs says he is an advocate for education, but during an interview in Springfield with News 8’s Angie Sharp, he said he had to make a choice that he knew would help some and hurt others – give Elliott Aviation a tax break instead of saving the Moline School District thousands of dollars.
The controversial choice stems from an article in The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus on March 14th. Senator Jacobs was interviewed about Elliott Aviation, an aircraft services company in Rock Island County that was recently given a tax exemption from the state. The tax break means the Moline School District could lose close to $150,000 a year in property tax revenue.
“It could equal three teachers,” says Kindergarten Teacher and President of the Moline Education Association, Shelly Rumler, says. “We need teachers.”
Senator Jacobs was quoted saying the matter is “out of his hands” and the Moline School District is in debt “a heck of a lot more than the money taken from Elliott Aviation.”
“Maybe the better question” – he said in the interview – “How did they get so deeply in debt that they have to worry about $150,000?”
“I was surprised to hear it,” says Rumler. “$150,000 a year… that does add up.”
Dr. David Moyer, Superintendent of the Moline School District, would not respond to Senator Jacobs’ comments, but he says in a time when $3.8 million is your debt, every dollar counts.
“When you start saying if you had $100,000 what would you do with it, I could give you a list of things we would do with it that would not be wasting money on somebody’s pipe dream or wish list.”
News 8 drove to Springfield to ask Senator Jacobs why he said what he said.
“There’s just no easy way for me to make everybody happy and the state does accept some of the responsibility.”
Pensions are still a problem, he says. In the last four years, the state’s pension contribution has jumped $2.9 million, while education funding has been cut $900,000.
“It’s dropping because of the incredible cost of our pensions,” says Senator Jacobs. “If I don’t pay [pensions], then I’m not paying some older retired teachers and I’m not going to do that.”
So that’s the problem, but during our visit, Senator Jacobs explained his solution – grow the economy now and education will follow.
“If you don’t have jobs, you don’t have labor. If you don’t have jobs and you don’t have labor, you don’t have kids in a happy home. So I’m one of those people who believes that at the end of the day education – everything starts with a job.”
That is why he supports a tax break for Elliott Aviation. The business has said its planning a $1.8 million expansion, which will create 50 new jobs.
“If it comes down between kids learning and business surviving, that’s a terrible choice to make, but I’ve made that choice more than once and I would do it again,” says Senator Jacobs.
So where does that leave our schools? Over the past three years, the Moline School District has cut more than $9 million and Dr. Moyer says more cuts will be necessary.
“I think some people have lost track of their concept of the public good,” he says. “It’s funny because you talk about job creation and you talk about healthy economies, but what’s the first thing people look at when they decide where to locate? It’s the schools. Why are we the last person in the conversation always on these matters?”
Changing that conversation may have to start on the local level. Senator Jacobs says he sees bright skies ahead, but for some it is still very cloudy and that light may have to come from within.
“We don’t know for sure what the state’s going to do, but I can promise you we’re not counting on the state,” says Dr. Moyer.
Let’s count on the community. Dr. Moyer says Rock Island County is the only county in the area that doesn’t have a 1% sales tax. Earlier in April, both Mercer and Henry Counties voted in favor of a sales tax increase to benefit their schools. Voting for that would provide some school funding and shift some of the burden from property taxes – taxes like those from Elliott Aviation or any other tax break business that may not always be there for schools to rely on.
The Moline School District – along with the Coal Valley Fire Department – have joined forces to challenge Elliott Aviation’s tax exemption in court. They – along with two local attorneys – say it is unconstitutional. For more information on the legal action surrounding Elliott Aviation, click here.