Will the state of Illinois ever come through on the $8.9 million capital development grant that Riverside-Brookfield High School officials applied for nine years ago?
It’s all up to the state legislature.
In February, Gov. Pat Quinn announced that Illinois school districts will receive about $623 million from the Illinois Jobs Now program for school construction and expansion.
Thirty-one districts got money and Riverside-Brookfield High School now ranks fifth on a list of school districts that applied for grants in 2003, said Illinois Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus.
Before last month’s disbursements to the other districts, RBHS was 49th on the list.
But for the school to get the money it applied for, the state legislature will have to authorize the spending. And that is no sure thing, because the state is facing a backlog of $6 billion in unpaid bills.
“If the legislature passes the funding authority for the third year of the capital program, which is on the table right now, then there should be enough funding to reach Riverside-Brookfield after July 1,” said Dave Blanchette, the spokesman for the Illinois Capital Development Board.
State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) said that he will do what he can to help RBHS get the money it applied for to help with its now-completed renovation and expansion.
“I personally support authorizing the spending of the third stage of the capital program,” Zalewski said. “I think there are a couple of components that need to be worked out.”
One of the funding sources for the capital program is video poker, but the Illinois Gaming Board has been slow in getting established and approving the controversial video poker licenses.
Money for the capital program also comes from motor vehicle fees and a portion of the sales tax on items such as alcohol, candy, tea and coffee.
“They’re still not up and running,” Zalewski said. “They’re saying by the fall, but I would be surprised if they were up and running by the fall. So that’s the first component. Will the money be there and will [the legislature] be satisfied that there will be enough money to fund the program? Will the legislature want to spend money on the capital programs when money is tight?”
Zalewski, who talked to District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis about the program when Skinkis was in Springfield in January, said that he is cautiously optimistic that the state legislature will fund the capital program, because such construction spending often draws bipartisan support.
“I think that capital bills are one of the few items that both sides of the aisle agree on these days, so I think it’s certainly possible,” Zalewski said. “Is it likely? I don’t know. I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic, but I don’t know if I can consider it likely that it will pass.”
With Illinois making budget cuts and laying off the workers, the state legislature may not want to spend money to reimburse school districts for work that is already finished.
“The question is, is there a will this year, with the budget cuts that are coming, to do these types of projects,” Zalewski said. “There are a lot of schools like RB that are waiting on this dough, so I’m hopeful we can get something done.”
The $8.9 million from the state would certainly be a welcome sight at a time when RBHS has been forced to lay off teachers, raise fees and cut extracurricular activities to try to close a $1.6 million projected operating deficit next year in the wake of a referendum defeat one year ago.
Receiving the full $8.9 it applied for would ease the school’s money woes for a few years, perhaps four or five.
But, Skinkis said, as much as he would love to get the money from the state, he can’t count on it.
“I have been in regular contact with Representative Zalewski,” Skinkis said. “I am hopeful that we will receive the refund. However, all of the planning and preparation that I am engaged in with the board of education is focused on the worst-case scenario of not receiving any other money from the state.