Marion School District could pay millions due to Illinois budget impasse

For more than four years, crews have been remodeling and expanding Marion High School but, because of the budget impasse, the state of Illinois has stopped paying its half of the bill. 

Now, the district is scrambling to find  the money before the project deadline hits.

Once a student a Marion High, Rani Walker is now a teacher. But, her childhood development classroom isn’t there. It’s being built as part of the school’s expansion project. When the budget impasse started, however, state funding for the expansion stopped. Walker says she worried about her program’s future.

"It was a concern whenever the government said ‘We are no longer going to be paying,’ Since the grant had to finish within the five year span, and our classrooms are the last ones to be put in place. So, it was a concern and a worry," said Walker.

She’s teaching in a temporary classroom these days, but the school is hoping by the time the next school year starts, it’ll be a different part of the school.

Superintendent Keith Oates says the district has to finish the project. The district is four and a half years in to a five year contract. If they don’t finish in time, they’ll lose all the state money for the project: close to half of the $68 million price tag.

"We’re too far in. We can’t stop. It’s too expensive to stop. So, now we’re being forced to borrow money to keep the construction going," said  Oates.

The district need $7 million to finish. Oates says he won’t sacrifice classrooms like Walker’s because of the budget battle. Walker says that support for her programs and others in the fine arts is exactly why their district grows, even when it means putting themselves in debt.

The Marion School Board will vote at its meeting on Feb. 16 on whether to borrow the $7 million needed to keep construction going. The decision will not affect anyone’s taxes.

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