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Cloonen voices her support for school funding

State rep. also stresses need for high-quality education

State Rep. Kate Cloonen (D-Kankakee) addressed the Coal City Unit School Dist. 1 board Wednesday night, saying legislators in Springfield value education.

“Everyone in Springfield wants to get back to where we’re fully funding education,” Cloonen said. “I want you to know we’re here for you.”

The recent legislative session ended last week without the General Assembly passing a pension reform bill, leaving the state’s financial standing murky.

Cloonen said that while things are tough right now, she is optimistic about the future.

“As we look at the budget at the state level, it’s disheartening when we can’t fully fund the schools,” Cloonen said.  “It’s very serious, but the good news is a lot of us [have backgrounds in education] and are proponents of education.”

She also emphasized the importance of maintaining a high standard of education in the state by attracting good teachers.

Some teachers’ groups strongly opposed pension reform bills proposed by Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, feeling the burden of reform was being placed on them.

“We want to get [the pension system] solved,” Cloonen said. “But not on the backs of the teachers.”

“I’m on your side,” she added.

In other business, the school board announced that it has come to a one-year contract agreement with the Coal City Community Unit Education Association.

It calls for a “soft freeze” on step increases in salaries.

Under the new contract, union members – excluding retirees – will receive an average salary increase of 2.62 percent.  Those frozen on the salary schedule will receive a 1.5 percent salary increase.

The two parties settled on a one-year contract “due to uncertainties in both the local and state funding sources.”

The board also made two belt-tightening moves on Wednesday night.

The first was voting to not renew a student accident insurance plan that covered students who became injured on district property in cases where the district was not at fault and not liable.

According to Superintendent Kent Bugg, the insurance was put into place years ago as a “secondary insurance” that would cover charges the student’s primary insurance did not.

Recently, Bugg said, it has been used not as the secondary, but as the primary form of insurance and the cost to the district would increase by more than 100 percent in the next fiscal year if renewed.

“That was never the intent when it was put into place,” Bugg said.

Board Vice President Shawn Hamilton said many districts do not offer the insurance, and cutting it could result in $21 thousand in savings for the district.  The district would not be taking on liability by not offering the insurance.

“We have to look for ways to save money where we can,” Hamilton said.

The board also voted to increase the bus fee charged to families who are not bus eligible but use the service from $375 to $500 per student next year.

Students who are not bus eligible are those who reside within 1.5 miles of the school they attend.

The cost to bus one student to and from school is $700 per year, according to board documents.

In 2011-12, the district charged non-bus eligible families $250 to access the service for the year and last year it was raised to $375 per student rather than per family.

The board indicated it will eventually make the service cost-neutral to the district.

“We can no longer afford to take that kind of loss,” Bugg said. “We will still provide that service, but the price is going to continue to go up.”



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