By Jennifer Wessner Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD–With less than two weeks until Election Day, Governor Quinn released millions of dollars to school districts around the state.
Quinn announced on Wednesday that 18 school districts will be getting a total of $270 million for construction and remodeling of school property. The money is part of the $30 billion dollar plan to build roads, bridges and schools statewide. Lawmakers approved the so-called “Capitol Plan” in 2009, but a portion of the funds are still being distributed.
School districts have been waiting since the Capitol Plan was enacted to learn if their district would receive money. Many local superintendents expressed relief on Wednesday after hearing that the money is coming their way.
Tim Bleyer, superintendent of Carterville Unit #5 Schools, said he is going to use the $22 million from the state to finish a new high school. Bleyer said his district was in desperate need of the new school.
“We are a growing district in Southern Illinois,” Bleyer said. “We have a high school that was built in 1924; we have been trying to build a new high school since 1974. And this allows us to complete it and take care of some additional needs we have for classrooms because we’re just running out of space.“
Prophetstown near the Quad Cities area is in line to receive $14 million to build 29 new classrooms. 12 of those will go to the Tampico middle school and 17 to Prophetstown high school. Tampico elementary school is also going to close, but the district is shifting those students throughout other schools.
Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Rock Falls said he was happy to hear the news.
“It’s really exciting for this community, it’s certainly needed,” Mitchell said. “Superintendent Rogers was really pleased and they’re certainly ready to move forward with that building as soon as possible.”
Warrensburg-Latham District 11 near Decatur was awarded $10 million dollars to put towards the construction of a new high school.
Superintendent of Warrensburg-Latham school district, Emmett Aubry, said the money is sorely needed.
“It’s going to be significant, because what it means is we can put the last wing on which is all classrooms,” Aubry said.
Although all involved are thrilled to receive the money, some lawmakers expressed frustration with the seemingly politically motivated timing of the announcement.
Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Sycamore, whose district includes DeKalb, which received $20 million for a new school, said the timing disappoints him.
“It was something that we approved well over a year ago, that was intended to try and help turn the economy and stimulate some job creation and job preservation,” Pritchard said. “I’m disappointed that’s it’s taken this long and now it’s in the shadow of the election and it looks like all of this is political. But this was passed in a bipartisan spirit.”
But Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said Quinn was just doing his job.
“Good government is good politics,” Bradley said. “And these districts have been waiting on this money for a long time.”
Governor Quinn responded to the criticism that his announcement was politically motivated by saying the timing was merely a coincidence.
“I’ve been doing these announcements ever since we passed the law,” Quinn said.
But James Briscoe, superintendent of DeKalb School District 428, said he isn’t worried about the political implications.
“It doesn’t matter to me if it’s political or not,” Briscoe said. “Our community is going to jump for joy as our taxpayers like everywhere else are getting hit hard. And this is just a very positive shot in the arm for our community.”