District 117 denied federal help for school improvements

By Ryne Turke on February 10, 2016 at 7:44am

District 117 will not be receiving federal money which would have contributed towards the renovation and improvement of several schools.

On Friday, the Illinois State Board of Education released a report which prioritized every school that put in an application for the Qualified School Construction Bond.

Back in November, District 117 applied for the $500-million federal program, which allowed a $50-million maximum per school district. District 117 was lumped into the “Priority One” category, along with 178 other schools.

After receiving an overall ranking of 82nd, Superintendent Steve Ptacek was informed District 117 wouldn’t be receiving any of the $500-million grant, because the funds were depleted by the top 29 school districts.

Ptacek says schools were ranked by low income percentage, amount of local revenue which could be generated per student and the number of students in each district without housing.

Ptacek believes District 117’s inability to sell health-life safety bonds was another contributing factor behind the low ranking.

“Almost all of the districts in the state do. Our total tax rate is our property tax rate, which was $4.82. That was 122nd out of 178 school districts in the ranking. The school districts that won had definite higher total tax rates on local property tax owners than Jacksonville.”

Ptacek says District 117 requested $20.7 million from the QSCB, which would have been put towards improving aging schools in the district.

“At the $6-million renovation a building, plus some extra money we had leftover from the last bond sale, we would have been able to do somewhere around four more elementary schools beyond Lincoln. It really hurt us because we would have been able to have five renovated elementary schools. Now we are at one with some extra money, where we need to think about where we need to put that.”

Ptacek stressed that multiple District 117 buildings need to be repaired over the next few years.

“People need to tour the basement of Washington and see how out of shape that building is. For four or five million we could do a complete beautification project of the high school, putting in some new carpet and lighting. That would make the building look tremendously new.”

Ptacek says District 117 wasn’t “banking anything” on the Qualified School Construction Bond, so there is no direct adverse impact from not getting it.

Ptacek confirmed that the District 117 budget is in good shape and plans are still in place to finish the Lincoln Elementary and Jacksonville Middle School renovations.

Once those projects are complete, Ptacek would like to have another community engagement process in the Fall of 2017.