If the state of Illinois doesn't screw your town on school funding, it is time to declare victory and keep looking for local solutions to pay for public education.
That's the situation for Forest Park after the state finally took semi-progressive steps last year to rewrite its school funding formula. No school district in the state lost money under the complex equation. That was the political reality of passing this reform measure.
Instead, Forest Park's District 91 public elementary schools fell right on the razor's edge. The schools will see an increase in state funding of $1,093 this year. You read that right. $1,093. That's on a current anticipated total from the state of $1.4 million.
So here we are, as usual, looking to local taxpayers to fund public education. With the generosity of our local taxpayers, in recent years the school district has built up a notable cash reserve even as it has added costs for expanded services such as preschool and more kindergarten. That surplus will need to be gradually drawn down, about $1 million this year, to pay for existing services.
That's what reserves are for and, eventually, it will rightly lead to the need for a tax referendum where the school district makes its case to voters that it has earned a raise.
If we've learned one thing as residents of this largely screwed-up state, count on yourselves, not on Springfield, to make progress in public education.
Tapping gaming revenues
Among the arguments in favor of permitting video gaming in Forest Park was the financial benefit to village government. Under state law, local municipalities earn a small slice of the overall revenue deposited into the machines by players.
We'd note that the final numbers since the practice was legalized by the village have now been posted by the state and that Forest Park earned a grand total of $149,152 for this highly divisive gambit.
Yes, we stipulate that 2017 was, in effect, a partial year as the number of approved and installed machines increased through the year. That should mean a somewhat greater take in 2018. The total amount includes an annual licensing fee per machine.
By comparison, though, our fairly cash-strapped village government recently hiked a range of parking fees and fines in an effort to close a $1.4 million budget gap. Those hikes will bring in a much heftier $250,000 annually, according to village leaders.
Mark Hosty, the former village commissioner and now former Forest Parker, continues his attempt to clog the ballot for citizen referendums on gaming by putting up questions that range from insincere to nonsensical. Among the questions he has put to voters is whether proceeds from video gaming should be dedicated to reducing the property tax levy or to help pay underwater police and fire pensions. Lofty goals. A more proper question might be, should the proceeds of video gaming be used to hire another staffer to write more parking tickets.
That's where the money is.