More King school money in hand

More King school money in hand

URBANA – Finally, the check was in the mail.

Early this year, school officials wrote off missing state funding for King School renovations after Springfield promises for the money went unfulfilled.

But last week, Superintendent Gene Amberg heard the state was about to write a check for the $250,000 still owed the district. Amberg initially was "pleased but cautious" because of all the past bad news about project funding.

"The money's in hand now and this is wonderful news for us," Amberg said. "It really helps out in our maintenance budget. We're grateful the state has honored its commitment, we're grateful to (state Rep.) Naomi Jakobsson because she stayed on it and we're grateful to (former state Rep.) Tom Berns because he started the project."

Amberg said he received the check for $221,650 in the mail Friday, but he heard from Jakobsson earlier in the week that it was on the way. No one has any idea why the money's about $28,000 short of the $250,000 expected, but no one's complaining.

"Frankly, we didn't think we'd get any of it," Amberg said. "The last delays turned out to be just a glitch. And we now have four new classrooms at King."

Initially, under Gov. George Ryan's administration and when Berns was in office, the state pledged to pay $500,000 of the $675,000 cost of the new classrooms at overcrowded King.

Urbana's director of business, Carol Baker, received the first state check for $250,000 in the spring of 2004 and the work went back on the district's schedule.

In February, after construction was finished, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity sent Urbana schools a letter saying funding for Ryan's Illinois FIRST program was ending, and officials figured they'd never see the remaining $250,000.

The money sent to Urbana was part of $195 million Gov. Rod Blagojevich has begun releasing for hundreds of projects around the state that were negotiated during Ryan's term.

The projects getting money had executed grant agreements, which are basically contracts with the state, Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said.

"The state made a commitment to these communities," Rausch said. "In some cases, the money was spent. Solid commitments had been made."

Blagojevich ordered a freeze on funding for the projects after he became governor in January 2003. Last spring, he agreed to distribute about $470 million of the frozen funds.

Altogether, the $195 million now being released will be used to pay for more than 560 projects across the state that were first approved during Ryan's administration.

"It's been a battle, but I've been committed to working on it from the time I took office," Jakobsson said Monday. "I made it a priority. King's important to the district and community."

She said she wrote letters and regularly reminded legislative leaders about funds for the King project. "I let them know it was a priority I thought really needed to be met," Jakobsson said.

"I'm so pleased the King kids have a nice building, an opportunity for a much better, safer, healthful situation at the school and for educating kids the proper way," Berns said. He gave Amberg credit for working with him and for his persistence in the face of state rejection.

Baker said bills for the King work were paid long ago. The district this month approved a 2005-06 budget, but that budget doesn't include the money for the King work.

"I didn't expect to see it, at least not this year," she said. "We've tried to cut expenses as much as possible. This means the operations and maintenance fund is out of debt except for the construction deficit."

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