Funding snub frustrates local administrator, Illinois state representative

Local administrators are angry after almost all of $495 million in federal grant money, that was supposed to help schools across Illinois, went to the Chicago area.

The Illinois State Board of Education accepted 178 applications for the funding. Of those, 29 came from schools in southern Illinois, but only Sandoval got any of the funds.

When Harrisburg Superintendent Mike Gauch looks around at his district, he says it’s obvious what needs to be done.

"We’ve got buildings that are 108 years old,” said Gauch. “If you walk inside of them, we’ve got plaster falling, walls that are pulling away from the foundation. It’s not a conducive environment for safety let alone learning."

The sale of 30 year bonds is making it possible for Harrisburg to get out of this old school and start new construction. 

In an effort to save his district roughly $7 million, Gauch applied for a zero interest loan through the Illinois State Board of Education but, like every other school in southern Illinois, his school was denied.

"It’s a very sticky wicket for me, because I know the schools that got the money need the money in their own minds,” said Gauch. “I just felt like the rubric seemed to be skewed."

The grading system included points for poverty and higher tax rates.

Gauch says the high level of poverty in Harrisburg keeps his taxes low.

"We just can’t shoulder it on our taxpayers,” said Gauch. “We’ve made cuts to avoid raising the taxes. It was almost like people who had not been fiscally responsible were being rewarded."

Gauch isn’t the only person frustrated by what he sees as a lack of transparency by the Illinois State Board of Education. State Rep. Brandon Phelps is calling for an investigation into how the money was awarded.

"What I want to know is those board members — there’s hardly any of them from southern Illinois on that board — did they take care of their own schools?” said Phelps. “Was there anything funny going on?"

Phelps says he is reaching across the aisle to try and get a bi-partisan investigation that could include help from the governor.

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