CHICAGO - Chicago Board of Education officials yesterday called on the Illinois General Assembly to restructure the state's education funding system to guarantee the long-term financial stability of Chicago schools and other financially troubled systems in the state.
The proposal was announced in conjunction with the board's repeated calls for the legislature to pass a bailout plan that includes the issuance of $300 million of general obligation bonds over two years through its financial oversight agency. The plan would eliminate a $298 million deficit in the board's $2.8 billion budget for fiscal 1994, which began Sept. 1.
The board's long-term funding proposal will be included in a bill sponsored by State Rep. Judy Erwin, D-Chicago, according to board officials. The bill will call for the current property tax-based system to be replaced with a "comprehensive and equitable" system by June 30, 1995, according to a board press release.
The bill would also create a committee called the Educational Funding Reform Commission that would consist of the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and their appointed experts on education and public finance.
The committee also would be responsible for formulating recommendations on specific revenue sources to fund public education. The committee would report its findings to the legislature by Dec. 15, 1994 and would be dissolved on July 1, 1995.
The long-term plan has garnered the support of several statewide and local business, civic, and school groups.
Representatives from the groups and board officials agreed that the education system relies too heavily on property taxes and that other funding sources could replace or supplement property tax revenues.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said that Madigan is focusing on efforts to keep schools open through the end of the year. Brown said that Madigan remains in support of the $300 million bonding plan.
However, Brown said that he could not comment on the board's long-term plan because he has not reviewed it.
Officials from the offices of Gov. Jim Edgar and Senate Majority Leader James Philip, R-Wood Dale, did not return phone calls.
The General Assembly, which convened yesterday to consider the bailout plan to eliminate the board's budget deficit, is scheduled to adjourn Friday.
Board President D. Sharon Grant said that the board is lobbying state lawmakers to pass the bailout plan and the long-term funding proposal this week. Besides bonding authorization, the legislature needs to pass bills to allow the board to tap teacher pension fund revenues and allocate $18 million of restricted state funds to help close the board's fiscal 1994 budget gap.
Meanwhile, the Chicago School Finance Authority, the board's financial oversight panel, on Monday appealed a federal court order that suspended until Nov. 15 a state law requiring the board to have a balanced budget before schools can open.
Next Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kocoras will hold a hearing to determine whether the court will consider ordering the implementation of the funding package to assist the school system. On Oct. 15, Kocoras issued his fourth temporary restraining order suspending the balanced budget requirement for the Chicago school system until Nov. 15.
The finance authority's appeal of Kocoras' ruling claims that Kocoras exceeded the permissible limits of federal regulations by issuing four restraining orders, and he did not have the authority to suspend the state law.