Wednesday, September 21, 2016

$50 million St. Charles school closing, upgrade could be done without voters' OK

James Fuller

James Fuller

Middle school closure and renovation plans in St. Charles may move forward this fall without a vote on increasing taxes.

District administrators are presenting plans to middle school staff members his week. The plans show how the district can close Haines Middle School and cobble together $50 million without a ballot question to improve Wredling and Thompson middle schools. Here's how that would be accomplished:

Proposed attendance boundary changes
Closing Haines Middle School would create a need to redraw middle school attendance boundaries. The construction work on Thompson Middle School would also take a couple years, forcing some shuffling of existing students. Every student currently at Haines would finish their middle school careers there. Existing Thompson students would finish their middle school careers at Haines. Under the changes, all students at an elementary school would move on to the same middle school.
Where elementary students would go• Bell Graham students would go to Thompson (no change)
• Ferson Creek students would go to Thompson (currently Haines)
• Lincoln students would go to Thompson (currently Wredling)
• Richmond/Davis students would go to Thompson (mostly Thompson now)
• Wasco students would go to Thompson (currently Haines)
• Anderson students would go to Wredling (no change)
• Corron students would go to Wredling (currently Haines)
• Fox Ridge students would go to Wredling (no change)
• Norton Creek students would go to Wredling (no change)
• Munhall students would go to Wredling (no change)
• Wild Rose students would go to Wredling (currently Haines)
Source: St. Charles Unit District 303

• About $19.3 million of that total would come from spending down the district's savings account. The withdrawal would still leave the district with enough savings to meet the financial policies established by the school board and state school finance recommendations.

• Another $15 million would be borrowed; the district has about $25 million worth of bonding authority. "This is not free money," Superintendent Don Schlomann said Tuesday. "But the $15 million will have a fairly small amount of impact to local taxpayers."

• The district also has about $7.8 million from a state construction grant it received six years ago.

• The remaining $7.9 million would come from a $1.7 million budget surplus from last year and by taking part of the $2.4 million in annual savings that would result from closing Haines. The plan would take $2.2 million of the savings in the 2016-17. Then it would use $2 million of the savings in both 2017-18 and 2018-19 to pay for the plan.

That all amounts to a tax increase of about $30 for the owner of a $300,000 home. The increase will be blunted by some concurrent retirement of district debt, reducing the increase to $23 for that same homeowner. In 2018, the district will pay off most of its remaining debt, resulting in a $600 property tax reduction to the owner of a $300,000 home. That savings would drop to $570 if the school board approves the middle school project.

What taxpayers would get for all that spending is the same as district staff presented during the community forums from this past summer. Haines would close. Wredling would get a cafeteria capable of hosting 500 students and 10 upgraded STEM labs. Thompson would get those same improvements plus 31 new classrooms, an additional gym, a new fitness room and air conditioning.

Schlomann said the idea to move forward without a referendum evolved out of community forums and a survey of community residents that showed the community would probably not support a tax increase.

"What we saw in the survey data is the community pretty much like the idea of upgrading the middle schools, going from three to two, but they didn't want to have to pay for it," Schlomann said.

That resulted in a quest to move forward without a referendum and the new plan. The plan isn't ideal, Schlomann said, but it is responsive to the recent community input.

"The board and my most comfort level would have been going to referendum and having the community participate in this because, financially, it would have been less risky for the district to do that," Schlomann said.

Schlomann said the risk comes from spending down the district's savings more than district officials would like.

"You always want to have that security blanket of having those dollars," Schlomann said. "But at some point, you can have too many dollars. The taxpayers paid these dollars to us, and we should use them judiciously to the benefit of kids. Our proposal, we believe, does that."

The school board will get its first look at the plan Sept. 29. It will vote on the Wredling part of the plan Oct. 11. The final vote on the entire plan will occur Nov. 14. The district will host three community forums on the plan: Oct. 20 at Haines, Oct. 24 at Wredling and Oct. 25 at Thompson.


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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Governor Rauner, fire the Chicago State University board



On Friday, Chicago State University trustees unfurled a $600,000 golden parachute for President Thomas Calhoun Jr.

The trustees accepted Calhoun's resignation — translation: fired him — after just nine months on the job. This after he was welcomed months ago as an exceptional leader to rescue ever-more-troubled CSU, with its abysmal graduation rates, fleeing students and cratering budget. And after more than 100 faculty members signed a letter urging trustees to support Calhoun and keep him in office.

The board's explanation for Calhoun's forced departure: None.


Board members wouldn't say why they so generously doled out that $600,000 to make Calhoun go away. Calhoun also remains mum.

That $600,000 is money that won't be used to improve classroom instruction at Chicago State, already in deep academic trouble. It won't be used to shore up the school's wobbly finances after spending an unfortunate $2.2 million, most of it in severance for nearly 400 employees laid off since the beginning of the year. This is a school hemorrhaging cash, failing its students and now drained of its last ounce of credibility.

Thomas Calhoun out as president

The Chicago State University board voted Thomas Calhoun out as university president on Sept. 16, 2016.

Cash-starved CSU is now even more cash-starved. And leadership-starved.

We don't know yet the particulars of why the board ousted Calhoun.

But we do know that Gov. Bruce Rauner now has a mission: Clean house. Four members of CSU's eight-member board finish their terms in January. The rest? Whoever voted to fire Calhoun without issuing a candid public explanation should go.

Rauner should be demanding their resignations now.

On Thursday, Rauner sounded as perplexed as everyone else about this latest CSU debacle: "I'm still trying to sort out, our team's trying to sort out, exactly what's going on there," he said. "We're going to do a thoughtful process to try to find highly qualified individuals to serve on that board. The second thing I'll say is, Chicago State is a very important institution. We'd like to see them do well. I would like to be very supportive of them. But in the past, for many years, they've had management problems and they've had significant financial difficulties. And I'd like to see them better run."

We'd like to see CSU better run, too. So would students, many of them from low-income families. These students rely on the Far South Side school for an education, a chance to succeed in life — not stark lessons in How Not To Run A University.

Calhoun isn't the first Illinois college panjandrum to be slipped a fat severance envelope on the way out the door. Colleges and other government agencies have wasted taxpayer money that way for years.

Amid jeers, Chicago State pays president $600,000 to leave, names interim leader

Amid jeers, Chicago State pays president $600,000 to leave, names interim leader

Last year, Rauner signed a bill that limited community college contract buyouts to no more than one year of salary and benefits. That came after College of DuPage trustees approved an egregious $763,000 severance buyout for former President Robert Breuder.

Legislators, time to extend that limit to CSU and the other four-year colleges. No more golden parachutes courtesy of Illinois taxpayers.

But first things first: CSU board members who voted to remove Calhoun, you owe CSU students, teachers — and community members — an explanation. And then you owe them a resignation letter.

Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.

Monday, September 12, 2016

August 06, 2016 Editorial: Budget mess sinking higher ed in Illinois

By Crain's Editorial Board

When Bruce Rauner was running for governor in 2014, he vowed he'd boost state spending on higher education while warning he'd also work with university administrators to reduce spending on overhead. Since moving to Springfield, Rauner has, euphemistically speaking, worked with public universities from one end of the state to the other to cut expenditures. If only he were true to his full promise.

Higher education in Illinois is withering. And if the state's schools aren't rescued soon, the damage could be profound and permanent.

Illinois has come a long way since the bleak days of the Rust Belt recession 35 years ago. A third of adults over 25 have a bachelor's degree or better in Illinois today; in metro Chicago, the share has risen even more, to 36 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's good. Though college isn't for everyone, the best-paying and most secure jobs are reserved for people with college degrees. If Illinois is going to thrive in the digital economy, it will need a highly educated workforce.

Rauner and the Democratic do-nothings in the General Assembly, however, seem bound and determined to deny us that. Their stopgap state budget restored funding for student grants in the previous academic year but set aside no money for grants in the fall semester, which is just a few weeks away. Altogether, the six-month budget gives higher ed $1.6 billion over 18 months. That's less than the $1.9 billion it received in the 12 months ended June 30.

It's no wonder that more Illinois high school graduates are enrolling in out-of-state schools, which can offer guaranteed aid packages. It's also no wonder that, as Crain's reported Aug. 1, professors are leaving in droves, even trading tenured positions here for nontenured jobs where they won't have to worry about what new cuts will be forced on public universities on Jan. 1, when the money runs out again. Once we lose our best and brightest to other states, we may never get them back.

We're picking on Rauner here because he broke his word. But House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are his duty-shirking enablers. What all three need to do is agree on a real state budget that provides the state's universities with the money they deserve and Illinois the workers it can't live without.

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