A social media campaign group has been launched, consisting of parents, teachers, board members, and community members concerned about the financial status of Oswego School District 308.
Save our Students in 308 (SOS 308) is a closed group on Facebook that, "Is a platform to provide information needed to empower the SD 308 community to get the funding owed to the school district." The group is not affiliated with OSD 308, though several district teachers and board members are members.
The group was founded after the most recent Board of Education meeting by Oswego resident and parent Rebecca Christiansen, a parent of an Oswego East High School alum and three Oswego High School students, one of whom is in the school's special education program.
"My husband convinced me to start attending school board meetings. After the third meeting I attended I left feeling hopeless," she said. "I looked at him and said, 'It is time. What time? Time to move out of Illinois.' I am not a person to sit around and moan and groan about what is wrong. I may not have the answers to fix every issue, but I try to do something."
That something began with the creation of Celebrate Differences, a local organization that provides resources and support to individuals with disabilities, their families, medical professionals, and communities; and the creation of A Pinch of Happiness Spice Shop in downtown Oswego.
"In working at the spice shop, I have had many families who stated they were running up credit cards for school fees when they never had any credit card debt. I have many families come to me about services for special education, always having to jump through hoops to get the services their child is to have," Christiansen said.
"Finally, two weeks ago I dished out another $600 in fees for the school in addition to $400 for an orthodontic bill. Almost $1,000 in one week. I said, 'Something has to give.' I work, my husband works two jobs and picks up extra hours. If we are struggling I knew other families had to be as well."
After the most recent Board of Education meeting on Nov. 12, Christiansen was inspired to start the Facebook group and social media campaign to make a difference in the district.
Current efforts by the group's 911 members are focused on contacting the nine state senators and representatives who count OSD 308 in their legislative districts, as well as outgoing Governor Bruce Rauner and Comptroller Susana Mendoza, to encourage adequate funding of the district.
Rauner signed the Evidence Based Funding formula into law in Aug. 2017.
The formula is intended to fund school districts equally by placing schools in a "tier" system, that helps to decide how much funding they receive from the state. The exact amount of state funds is determined through several steps, including calculating a district's adequacy target - the cost of educating all students.
As of the most recent projections by the Illinois State Board of Education, OSD 308 is at 63 percent of its adequacy target; about $132.3 million out of $211.5 million, placing OSD 308 in Tier 1.
According to information posted to the OSD308 website, Illinois is about $7 billion short of fully funding the formula, as it requires an estimated $13.9 billion to guarantee every district in the state can reach at least 90 percent of its adequacy target in state funds in the 2019 fiscal year. Illinois has allocated approximately $6.8 billion for this investment in the state budget.
The state has also granted Mandated Categorical Funding (MCAT) payments to OSD 308 3-6 months behind schedule, and the district has not yet received the payment due in Sept. 2018.
To address these concerns, Christiansen and the members of SOS 308 have called, emailed, and written to state legislators.
"I feel like they have taken note. We are getting attention. They know we are now paying attention," Christiansen said.
As of this writing, despite contacting multiple legislators, Christiansen has only heard back from Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) and Rep. David Welter (R-Morris); though other members of the group have also communicated with Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) and Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove).
When describing her communications with the legislators, Christiansen said, "It appears from the comments posted within the Facebook group that members are receiving generic responses from most legislators, whereas Rep. Batinick and Rep. Welter seem to genuinely care."
Christiansen has also spearheaded a t-shirt fundraiser in the group, to raise money for a trip to Springfield to speak directly to state legislators. Shirts will be available through www.crosstownink.com for $15 each, with proceeds going to fund the trip to Springfield.
The OSD 308 Board of Education will next meet on Monday, Dec. 10 at 7:15 p.m. in the Community Room at Oswego East High School.