Rolf Sivertsen, the school superintendent in Canton in west central Illinois, is among a group of Downstate school officials who may be more important to the future of Chicago schoolchildren than Forrest Claypool.
Sivertsen and the others are ardent supporters of Senate Bill 1, the school funding legislation that Gov. Bruce Rauner has promised to veto as soon as it reaches his desk. Rauner calls it a “Chicago bailout.”
Contrary to the governor’s assertions that their communities are being shortchanged, these Downstate superintendents say the legislation is fair and are asking Rauner to sign it.
More important, if the governor goes ahead with his veto as expected, many told me they will ask their local legislators to override the governor’s veto if no compromise solution is found quickly.
“Why is [Rauner] whipsawing Downstate against Chicago?” Sivertsen asked me one day last week. “The children of Chicago are just as important as all Illinois children.”
It’s nice to hear that from somebody who isn’t talking out of both sides of his mouth, as was the case with Rauner on Monday when he professed great concern for Chicago school kids as he threatened to reduce funding for their schools.
The governor called the Legislature into special session starting Wednesday to come up with different school funding legislation while again declining to make public the details of his own plan.
One key to overcoming Rauner are these Downstate superintendents, who have been closely involved in the years-long effort to fix the state’s school funding formula.
They found common ground with Chicago Public Schools in developing a formula that benefits both by recognizing their shared challenges — notably high percentages of students from poor families who are more costly to educate.
Downstate school officials could be much more influential in any potential override vote than would CPS’ Claypool because most of their communities are represented by Republicans while Chicago legislators already support the measure.
To that end, many have been holding town forums to explain the benefits of Senate Bill 1 to their residents, an uphill struggle to be sure in Downstate areas where the first inclination is to believe Rauner’s version that Chicago is screwing them over again.
Sivertsen is superintendent of Canton Union School District 66, about 30 miles west of Peoria. His district has 2,600 students in grades pre-k through 12th. Sixty percent of those students come from low-income families.
The school district would receive $760,000 more if Senate Bill 1 becomes law.
Sivertsen said he is a Republican who supports Rauner on many of his initiatives. But he said the governor should achieve his goals through compromise, not by holding up school funding.
I asked Sivertsen about Rauner’s statements last week advising superintendents not to support Senate Bill 1 out of “fear” of what House Speaker Mike Madigan would do to them if they didn’t. He sounded offended.
“I’m not an easy guy to knock down, and I’m not afraid of anything, especially not Mike Madigan or Bruce Rauner,” Sivertsen said.
Rather, he added, if school funding is not soon in place, “they ought to be afraid of us. We will organize the parents, and we will hold them accountable.”
I agree with Rauner on one point: Democrats need to send him the school bill instead of continuing to hold it back.
After approving the legislation, Democrats used a parliamentary maneuver to avoid moving it to his desk, arguing they wanted to keep him from vetoing it hastily and to start negotiations on a compromise. Rauner says they’re stalling to build pressure over whether schools will open on time.
I’d say both are true. Either way, time is up. The first state school aid payments are supposed to go out by Aug. 10.
Democrats need to send Rauner the legislation and then hope these school superintendents can have some influence.