QUINCY -- Heidi Easterling already has her mind made up about the Quincy Public Schools referendum on the March 17 ballot.
"Personally I'm voting 'yes' for the referendum," Easterling said. "I think that our schools need more money to be successful. I think our kids are worth investing in."
But Easterling turned out for Monday night's informational meeting just to listen to the presentation about the proposed 53-cent increase for the school district's education fund.
"I'm here to get more facts and information to share with people that I talk to," Easterling said.
Melanie Lechtenberg wanted to learn more about the referendum. "I want to hear the presentation, see what's going on," she said.
"The whole goal is to make sure you have the right information," said Will Duryea, co-chair of a community committee promoting the referendum, who gave a presentation on the referendum before asking for questions from the nearly 30 people in the audience. "Obviously I'm supporting this effort, but I want you to know where the school district is at and what they're trying to do with this referendum."
Quincy's school funding rate is last of all large unit school districts in Illinois -- 49th out of the 49 schools in education fund rate and total tax rate. If the referendum is approved, "it will move us from 49 out of 49 to 47 out of 49," Duryea said. "I don't think we're shooting for the moon, but I think we are going to fund our schools appropriately."
The increase from $1.84 to $2.37 per $100 in assessed value in the education fund is expected to generate an estimated $5.3 million each year to cover costs of unfunded state mandates for a $40,000 minimum teacher salary by 2023 and $15 per hour minimum wage by 2025 and address staff turnover and behavior and disruptions in the classroom.
QPS has had a balanced budget the last three years, thanks to making cuts of $1.8 million, but "we foresee being in deficit spending again in two years based upon unfunded mandates," Superintendent Roy Webb said.
If the referendum is approved, the additional funding would be available in 2021, so "if we don't pass this now we're going to be behind the eight ball," district resident Nick Smith said.
Right now the district's minimum teacher salary is $34,500, so "it's a steep incline for us, a significant lift for us to get" to the $40,000 minimum salary, Webb said.
Others in the audience asked about pay increases for veteran teachers to keep pace with the new minimum salary. A two-year contract extension, approved pending passage of the referendum, addresses that issue.
"We've got to take care of our current teachers, get new teachers in. We've got to get this turnover rate down, so we have some stability in our schools," Duryea said.
Ken Sparrow Sr. wondered if the district would see less financial support from the state if the referendum is approved.
"The evidence-based funding formula model does not take that into account, It won't lower the amount we're going to get. The board asked that question right away," Webb said.
Under the state formula, QPS should get $22 million more in state funding for a total budget of $90 million a year, but until that happens, the community can take a step to support the district's finances.
"We can pass this referendum, and the money goes right into this community," Duryea said. "It won't go to Springfield. It won't go to Chicago. The dollars stay here. We have total control over them."
Quincy Public Schools will hold one more informational meeting on the March 17 referendum.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12 in the Mary Ellen Orr Auditorium at John Wood Community College.
More information about the referendum is available online at qps.org.