“We can’t be pawns, we have to be a priority” Illinois school district feels impact of state budget woes

(WTHI Photo)

HUTSONVILLE, Ill. (WTHI) – It may be a new year, but frustrations in the Land of Lincoln remain the same.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the movie Groundhog, you know, where you get up and it’s the same thing when it comes to the state of Illinois budget,” said Supt. Julie Kraemer, Hutsonville CUSD #1.

As state lawmakers struggle to reach a budget, Kraemer’s patience is running thin.

“I’m not sure if I can put it into words anymore to be honest,” she said, “It’s so hard when you do and your community does everything that they’re supposed to be doing, and it just never seems like enough.”

CUSD #1 has received General State Aid payments. However, Kraemer says there are also categorical payments they haven’t received. Categorical payments cover vital expenses such as transportation and special education.

“We received only one payment and it was from last fiscal year,” she said, “We received none from this year, so I’m about $175,000 short.”

With only five school buses in the district, Kraemer says lack of payments puts a strain on their transportation costs. She says she has no idea when and if those payments will come in. As the payments remain uncertain, so does their fund balance.

“This year when I created the budget I took their word, and they told us this is what you will get. You will get this percentage of each categorical payment and you’ll get all your GSA,” she said, “That’s what my budget is built on. If we don’t get the payments that we were promised, we will have a deficit, we will end up losing some money this year.”

Kraemer says with a small school district like CUSD #1, it will be hard to make up the lost money.

“That’s not something that with the EAV, this district being a poor, poverty district can afford,” she said, “I can’t make up the amount of money I’m going to lose in one year by next year, it just doesn’t happen. It takes year after year, through the years, of putting that money to the side.”

Kraemer believes the lack of a state budget has contributed to a serious teacher shortage.

“It’s tiring, it’s frustrating and it’s a good reason why a lot of educators are leaving because it’s inconsistent and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said, “and after so many times of trying to recover and plan, and then them changing the rules, you just get in a very frustrated state.”

Despite the state’s budget problems, Kraemer credits prior district administration for helping them be able to navigate through the crisis.

“The only way we were able to navigate is because administrators, prior to myself and the Board of Education here at Hutsonville, prior to not only current, but prior to myself, did a really good job to make sure that all along and foreseeing out in the future,” she said, “As our enrollment numbers were declining, they were making cuts. So they were spending and making those decisions and cutting that to where there was enough of a balance that we were able to go ahead and ride through some of that storm, but that’s not going to last forever.”

The district is also doing what they can to continue offering certain courses and programs to students. Kraemer also credits the working relationship within the county.

“Because we are a small school, anywhere else it would be hard to offer some of the things that we have been able to continue to offer because we do work well with the rest of the county,” she said, “Currently, we share teaching positions, we share programs. My students go and take auto mechanics and they take buildings and trades from Robinson School District, and then we have a vocational system that we also share where they can take CNA, they can take welding, we have LTC where our kids can go.”

Meanwhile, Kraemer is hoping for the best, all while at the mercy of the state and waiting on legislators to make a move in the waiting game.

“This is the most important natural resource that this state has,” she said, “Your future, their future, our future depends on educating these students. So it has to be a priority. We can’t be pawns, we have to be a priority and until the state decides to make it a priority and stop playing these games, our kids are the ones that are going to continue to pay the price.”