There is no good solution to the financial problems facing the Champaign school system, at least one that is legal. The best solution would be to take this year's shortfall – estimated at $2.6 million – out of the bank accounts of every business manager, every administrator and every school board member who insisted on spending money over that last 10 years or so that the district didn't have.
But that's not valid, just vengeance.
School officials have now come up with a relatively painless way to solve the financial problem – refinancing existing debt and issuing working cash bonds that will raise $6.3 million over the next three years.
On the bright side, the strategy preserves programs and does not increase class sizes. In other words, it doesn't punish schoolchildren for the shortcomings and incompetence of the adults who were supposed to be watching over their school system.
Still, it lets the school board and the administration off the hook for mistakes, many of them committed by past administrators and past school board members, although not entirely. Once again, property taxpayers will be asked to make up for those mistakes.
The price that property taxpayers will have to pay isn't certain. They might have had a tax rate cut of as much as 12 cents per $100 of assessed valuation; instead they're likely to see about a 6-cent reduction. The tax rate reduction, which continues Champaign's record of having one of the lowest rates in the area, is primarily the result of increases in property valuations in Champaign, as well as millions of dollars' worth of new construction.
Still, some school officials have said that a tax rate decrease is also a tax decrease. To disprove that theory, look at your last few property tax bills and note the decreasing tax rates and the increasing tax payments. Make no mistake, Champaign property taxpayers will be paying more to fix this schools mess.
They have a chance to protest. They can either howl at the school board or, if they're really angry and motivated, they can gather signatures from 10 percent of all the voters in the school district (at least 5,700 voters) and force a referendum on the decision to issue working cash bonds.
But what does that gain anyone, except cuts in school programs? The bottom line is that without this infusion of millions of dollars, the approximately 9,000 students in the Champaign public schools face the prospect of an inferior education.
Our community's future doesn't need that. This is an imperfect solution to the school district's financial problems but it's better than cutting programs, increasing class sizes and backsliding on the progress that several Champaign schools have made in recent years.