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D205 superintendent calls school funding reform bill ‘problematic’

As lawmakers prepared to enter the Illinois House session Aug. 23 to consider Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a school funding reform bill known as Senate Bill 1, Lockport Township High School District 205 Superintendent Todd Wernet joined a list of school officials across the state Aug. 21 voicing opposition.

The measure was passed earlier this year in session and subsequently vetoed by the governor with an amendment. Since that time, the Senate has overridden Rauner’s veto of the bill keeping it alive for the House to consider.

“If you took at look at the bill and the amendatory veto components, there were several other pieces to the amendatory veto that are problematic particular to school districts like Lockport Township High School,” he said.

One of the issues Wernet has with the measure is in the area of tax increment financing districts.

The amendatory veto, for example, outlines its intent to take away the equalized assessed valuation of property taxes owed to the district, but were captured within a TIF. At that point, the school funding formula is computed, leaving the district with less money in general state aid.

To date, D205 receives 80 percent of its funding through its share of local property taxes, while another 3 percent of its revenue stream is general state aid.

Prior to introducing Senate Bill 1, a hold harmless was instituted by lawmakers to ensure that schools, like Lockport Township High School, maintain current revenue streams at districts that do not have property tax bases to fund to a foundation level.

Another problem factoring in includes the freezing of the previous year’s extension base, which puts districts in a position to go out to referendum to get additional funds.

Wernet referenced a recent news article he read that showed the state providing many Will County schools with a substantial amount of additional new dollars under Senate Bill 1 and said the district’s share would’ve been $120,000.

District 205 has a budget of approximately $58 million that makes for $30 per student.

Wernet dismissed the idea of taking in more money through Senate Bill 1 and said it is not enticing for the district to be handicapped by the amendatory components.

Like other suburban districts, District 205 has always paid into the pension systems, Wernet. The issue is that Chicago Public Schools has not met its obligation.

Wernet said the situation at hand is “unprecedented.”

D205 schools promote college, career readiness

Also at the meeting, officials examined progress made over the last year to the Advanced Placement program.

Wernet commended the district for all the work they’ve done to advance curriculum and instruction.

“I’m very proud of it,” he said.

College Board recently confirmed that Lockport Township High School attained a score of 85.3 percent in reviewing AP exam taken by the student body.

Brett Gould, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said this is the highest achievement in Lockport Township High School history and gave kudos to the students.

Over the last year, District 205 has made efforts to increase participation in its more rigorous courses.

As of May, Lockport Township High School administered 1,169 exams to 563 students. That means 200 additional exams were completed by 68 more students, compared to the data reported previously in 2016.

Gould said not only are students testing more within the AP program, but they are also increasing their scores.

Earlier this year, District 205 received recognition by both U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post for promoting college and career readiness.

Building improvements reviewed

The board also took a moment to review the district’s efforts to maintain its facilities, with a focus on areas such as the East Campus construction project and soccer field improvements.

“Overall, it’s progressing very, very well,” Wernet said. “Of course, there are issues as you go toward completion. One issue is the fire doors and then three of the classrooms’ orders were not completed. We had to push that back a little bit, so those classrooms are not ready and will not be ready probably until the first of October.”

As for the soccer field, the work performed on the stadium turf was completed recently.

Wernet said it looks like a “brand-new field.”

Other improvements highlighted include the auto shop, courtyard, science labs and the media center, which are progressing well or have reached completion, Wernet said.

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