School advocates demanded more money and state lawmakers suggested school consolidation when the two sides gathered at the District 65 administration building in Evanston Tuesday night.
Evanston Township High School Board Member Gretchen Livingston complained that the state owes $1.1 million to the high school and $3.6 million to District 65.
“Education has not been made a priority in our state, and we know that because we have not been putting the dollars there,” Livingston said during the meeting of the PTA Council’s Joint Legislative Task Force.
But Rep. Daniel Biss said lawmakers “are gradually digging ourselves out of the debt.”
Biss said that while payments owed schools have been delayed, “I don’t see any evidence that the bills are not being paid.”
And Rep. Robyn Gabel said the state is paying 12 percent interest on the money owed.
Biss said the legislature wasn’t picking on schools in its budget balancing efforts. “In an environment where there are so many cuts coming, we distributed it evenly so as not to pick favorites,” he said.
And he warned that the cutbacks aren’t over. “In the current economic and political environment, you’re going to see more cuts to education.”
One committee member tried to get the lawmakers to pledge to further raise taxes — beyond the recent 60 percent increase in the state income tax. When they declined to do so, she said, “And these are supposed to be liberal Democrats!”
State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg said school systems could trim costs by sharing services and consolidating districts.
He said local districts should take the lead on that rather than being compelled to consolidate by the legislature, and he said “the communities in my senate district should lead by example” on consolidation.
Top: Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, Rep. Robyn Gabel and Rep. Daniel Biss.