Erie schools forge ahead after getting surprise bill from Illinois

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ERIE, Illinois -

Matt Newton's Math class knows how to work with numbers at Erie Middle School on Friday.

But when Illinois billed the rural school district $435,000 for overpayment, the figures came as a complete surprise.

"It is one of the most bizarre things," said Superintendent Brad Cox.

The district of 660 students is among thousands of Illinois taxing districts being asked to repay a total of $168 million.

Cox says that the state changed its calculations without warning.

"If you're going to make a $168-million mistake, wouldn't you go to great lengths to explain exactly how that mistake was made?" he asked.

The surprise bill comes at a time when Erie is starting to look at building improvements.

Most of its school buildings are more than 50 years old.

Just across the street from Erie Middle School, Linda Wuerzburger is holding a yard sale.

She's among local voters who will decide on funding district improvements.

For now, she's upset by the state's surprise move.

"Absolutely," she said.  "It's kind of like they're being kicked when they're down."

"It's a small town," added Allison Geer.  "Everyone is so close.  This is kind of like a shock."

For its part, Erie Schools are in remarkably solid financial shape during difficult times.

"We're in a spot where we have no debt," said Superintendent Cox.

Cox doesn't think that the latest surprise bill will threaten renovations.

He expects a vote could take place during the November presidential election.

Erie CUSD #1 will hold a community meeting at 6:30 p.m., on April 26, at Erie High School.

It will hold an identical meeting on May 1, 3 p.m., at the Methodist Hall.

Cox says that the situation sends a message about a broken system in Springfield.

"At some point in time, I'm really hoping that our state will have some sort of a wake-up call," he said.

Until then, school districts must deal with bills that keep adding up.

"The kids are the ones that are going to get hurt in the end," Wuerzburger concluded.




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