SPRINGFIELD — Nearly a decade after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich showed up at a Quad-City school district with a giant fake check and the promise of money for a new building, some of that cash is again on hold.
The Silvis school district received word that Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration is withholding $1.5 million from the district because of the state’s recent credit rating downgrade.
The downgrade came after lawmakers and Quinn again failed to reach agreement on an overhaul of the state’s underfunded employee pension systems.
In response, the administration said it would delay a $500 million bond sale until late March or early April in hopes the markets are less “unsettled.”
The delay affects about 20 other projects across the state. A complete list was not available Friday.
State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he was “tired of the run-around.”
“If the state was never going to live up to its promise of construction dollars, why approve the project and give the people of my district false hope,” he said. “The state made an agreement and needs to come through on that agreement now.”
Silvis, which built a new junior high and remodeled an middle school to turn it into an elementary school, and any other districts potentially affected by the canceled bond sale now must wait until later this spring for the money.
Silvis Superintendent Ray Bergles called the saga of securing state money an “ordeal.” He said the delay will force the district to borrow money from its education fund until the state money arrives.
“We’ve got to pay the contractors,” Bergles, who has been superintendent of the district for seven years, said Friday.
The new facility, called Northeast Junior High School, and the remodeling of the old middle school cost $20 million, Bergles said. Under terms with the state, Illinois was supposed to pay $15 million while the Silvis School District was to pay $5 million.
To date, he said, between $8 million and $9 million has come out of the Silvis School District’s pocket.
Northeast Junior High opened at the start of the school year and is home to grades six through eight. The elementary students will be moving into their newly remodeled school April 3.
“It has been a lesson in patience,” Bergles said. “Luckily, we’ve had good reserves and have been very conservative in our spending for many years.
“We’re like every other school district around the state, but if we hadn’t been conservative in our spending over the years, we’d be in a lot worse shape.”
Jacobs said the delays actually date to former Gov. George Ryan’s era.
“Silvis School District originally applied for the school construction grant in 2002,” Jacobs said. “They have been strung along by the state for long enough. At a time when Quinn is providing funds for other construction projects across the state, it is time for the state to man up to its commitments and give Silvis the money promised over a decade ago.”
(Reporter Thomas Geyer contributed to this story.)