Over the course of a 10-hour negotiaton period two weeks ago, the Streator Elementary School District went from looking at rock bottom to turning over a new leaf.
After a lengthy negotiation, the teachers union and school board came to a contract agreement, putting an end to a possible strike.
The real difference maker, however, was the state finally decided to fund the district.
Streator Elementary received $481,256 in new money and is projecting a budget in the black. The district had enough funds to give raises without compromising its operation.
The state's inability to fund its schools had taken a toll, in particular on Streator Elementary, which has the second lowest property tax wealth in The Times area. Unlike Streator's high school, the district's boundaries are mostly in the city, not allowing it to capitalize on the farmland or wind properties outside of town.
The idea of the state's funding formula was to fund each student at a foundation level, with the state making up the difference in a district's lack of property tax wealth. When the state decided to only make those payments at a percentage, it hurt the districts that needed money the most.
As a result, the district had to make millions of dollars in cuts, reducing staff and closing two schools. To maintain athletics and musical programs, booster organizations had to step in and kick in funding.
In March 2016, there were only three other districts in the state with a worse financial profile score. The district even gained attention of Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, and Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, both who worked closely in drafting education legislation.
Now, with a projected fiscal year surplus, board President Michael Holcomb said the district will be able to fund those extracurricular programs.
Along with new money, the district also has new leadership. Superintendent Lisa Parker is working part-time until July 1, when she will take over on a full-time basis.
If the district is able to use surplus money to restore programs lost during hard times, it will start to mend its strained relationship with the community.
The health of the elementary district goes hand-in-hand with the welfare of the community as a whole. Property values will increase as the perception of the quality of education builds up, and that in turn will help the district, and so on.
There's an old saying money can't buy happiness, but those people probably haven't been around school finances. If the state continues to fund its schools appropriately, sunnier days are ahead for Streator Elementary.
OFF BEAT is a column expanding on coverage beyond the regular news beat, from ideas to issues. Email news editor Derek Barichello at email@example.com or call 815-431-4073 with news tips, questions or to chat.