OP schools alert: state subsidies too much, says Chi Trib article

OP district 97 over-subsidized, says front-pager in lede to story [subscription only] about how tax caps lead to special help, leaving district’s first-responders with lotsa work to do.

Oak Park’s pricey homes, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and array of shops and restaurants generate billions in property wealth, funneling a bounty of tax dollars to its elementary school district.

That kind of local affluence usually means fewer dollars from the state to help cover school bills. But Oak Park Elementary School District 97 also receives millions through a little-known state subsidy aimed at fattening its budget.

OP not the only such district:

Oak Park was among those on the receiving end as Illinois quietly doled out some $6 billion since 2000 to boost state aid for select school districts — many in the Chicago region — that couldn’t get more money from property owners because of laws that limit tax collections, the Tribune has learned.

Rolled into the usual state aid sent to districts, the subsidies are all but hidden and have been skyrocketing, starting at $46 million and increasing more than 1,000 percent in the years since lawmakers approved them, state data show. At its peak in 2008, the program cost taxpayers $805 million, with the majority of school districts not getting a penny.

“It is ridiculous,” said State Superintendent Christopher Koch. “We can’t afford it; it doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair to everyone else.”

How much does OP get and what does losing it mean?

Oak Park 97 got the fifth-highest subsidy in the state this year — calculated at $7 million.

“That $7 million is a huge percentage of our budget,” said Robert Spatz, vice president of the school board, which oversees a budget of nearly $70 million. “Seven million is 100 staff members.”

Without the subsidy, Oak Park’s basic state aid would have been $1.8 million instead of nearly $9 million.

Hello, Dem committeeman, influential state Senator Don Harmon. Hello, Springfield.

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