District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly took to the podium at First United Methodist Church in Normal last night and joked the budget situation must be really bad because he's now meeting regularly with other superintendents and local college presidents. "I don't remember that ever happening in my 27 years in education ... that presidents of universities and community colleges all get together in a room to have these discussions. That tells you how serious it is," he told a community gathering organized to share stories and pray for the victims of the state budget impasse.
Reilly said the lack of funding for social service agencies is now forcing schools to take on the role of managing students with a variety of issues. "It means I've got social workers who are expanding their services. I don't have more people but the needs do not go away. Instead of being served out in the community, [the needs] come more to our schools," he shared.
Heartland Community College President Rob Widmer said he's been in education 40 years and gave a personal perspective about trying to budget in a sea of uncertainty. "This has been the most frustrating and challenging two years in my entire career," he said. Widmer shared the college was forced to turn away Adult Education and English As A Second Language students because of lack of state funding.
Illinois State University President Larry Dietz pointed out 17,000 students decided to leave Illinois to get their college degree at a cost of $170 million in economic impact last fall. He led the church gathering in prayer. "I pray that we'll all rise above the personal differences and address the very core issue which is what is the best for the common good." He asked for leaders to have discernment, empathy and awareness of the impact of their lack of action. He ended with this. "I pray leadership is about compromise and my wife Marlene and I will continue to pray for the leadership in the state and for the progress, for stability and for a multi-year phase plan to help resolve the fiscal issues within the state."
This Is About Humanity
Dontae Latson, director of the YWCA of McLean County said about solving the budget stalemate, "If the question is about WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), we know the answer." Latson said, "This is about humanity." He shared one of many heartbreaking scenarios his employees face.
"Imagine telling someone who has been trafficked to Bloomington-Normal and subsequently sexually assaulted that there is no agency that has money to help her get home."
Diane Schultz of The Baby Fold which provides adoption and foster care, residential treatment, special education and a variety of family and child support services began her time by reading from the preamble of the Illinois Constitution. Then she shared how 50 families who have adopted children with mental health issues are on a waiting list to receive intensive counseling. "Their children cycle in and out of more expensive psychiatric facilities and hospitals or they may be disrupted and placed in 24-hour residential care, all of which is funded at a much higher price tag by the state of Illinois."
Families who call the mental health crisis line can wait up to four hours before a social worker or clinician can get to a child in distress. Schultz pointed out another frightening scenario. "Caregivers of mentally unstable youth have had to wait days for the crisis team to find an available in-patient, psychiatric hospital bed for a child or teenager because there was not a single bed to be had in the state of Illinois to provide that safety and stability for these youth in crisis," she testified to the gathering.
Another agency leader, Lisa Pieper of Children's Home and Aid said she has only been able to help one pregnant teenager and has turned away more than a hundred others, many of whom have tried to leave abusive relationships. Pieper said they endure instability, depression and lack of healthcare.
Retired Judges Elizabeth Robb and John Freese urged those attending the gathering to demand legislators and the governor meet their constitutional obligation to provide a budget. Robb said recommendations made a year ago by a committee she served on to reduce the state's prison population have not been implemented because budget issues have dominated discussions.
Judge Freese evoked rousing applause as he preached, "If they cannot or will not govern, they should step aside and let someone else govern!"