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Legislators discuss pension reform, other priorities at D300

Updated: February 24, 2013 6:17AM

ALGONQUIN — Of all the questions asked Tuesday at the Community Unit School District 300 legislative reception, a student’s question read aloud by staff put it best: “Where’s all the money that the state owes to the district?”

The simple answer, according to just-sworn-in state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, is “it’s being spent on other things.”

“Priorities get set and rearranged, and so the money you think should be there is being spent somewhere else. It’s really not any more complicated than that,” she said.

That’s why it’s important for the school district to share its priorities with legislators — so those senators and representatives can advocate for their constituents, added state Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin.

And that’s exactly what more than 75 District 300 students, parents, staff and school board and community members did that evening at the legislative reception at Jacobs High School.

Legislators in attendance included Farnham, McConnaughay and state Rep. Michael Tryon, R-Crystal Lake. Others included West Dundee Village President Larry Keller, Sleepy Hollow Village President Stephen Pickett, and representatives from the village of Algonquin and the offices of state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Cary, and state Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Barrington.

This is the district’s second legislative reception in the past 12 months, noted District 300 Board Legislative Committee Co-chair Steve Fiorentino. The last was a reception last spring in Springfield to thank state legislators for their work to lessen the impact on the district of extending the economic development area around Sears corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates.

Legislation to extend that EDA is what first had pushed the Carpentersville-area district to become more legislatively active and to establish its board legislative committee. And it’s what last had brought legislators to Jacobs for a rally, noted District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy.

“We know we need to be more legislatively active,” Bregy said.

“We’ve been asked nationally to speak in front of other school districts about how we gained that momentum. We need to gain that momentum back with some of our local priorities.”

Most of the discussion Tuesday was about the district’s four legislative priorities for the school year, shared by Board Legislative Committee members: the shrinking general state aid and categorical funding the district receives from the state, never-received state capital development board funding (those funds will come from video gambling, and District 300 will see that money, Tryon said), truancy, and pension reform.

“At this point, pension reform is scary for the district because they’re afraid that cost is going to be pushed onto the district and its taxpayers,” said Meghan Linder, a junior at Hampshire High School and student member of the board legislative committee.

The district is against any legislation that would shift employer contributions from the state to the district, and Tryon said he is “not open to a 100 percent cost shift.” McConnaughay said legislators need to have a discussion about inequities in the way school districts are funded, but, “Right now we’re trying to keep the house from catching on fire.”

And, state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, said, “to me, all the questions on budget you’ve asked tonight come back to the issue of pensions because, in the $33.5 billion budget that Rep. Tryon mentioned, the pension payment has increased $1 billion last year and $1 billion this year. We don’t have billions lying around in the Illinois state budget.”

Nekritz is chief sponsor of the pension reform bill that, among other changes, would gradually increase the costs for those pensions to local districts. She made a surprise appearance at the reception, “on a mission with the pension issue to make sure the facts are out there,” she said.

Community members also introduced the topic of school safety and gay rights (which Tryon distinguished from gay marriage, something neither he nor and McConnaughay supports) afterward during a question-and-answer session.

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