ARGENTA – State Sen. Chapin Rose is a “Friend of AO.”
“You're all aware that our poverty grant investigation has come to fruition,” Superintendent Damian Jones of Argenta-Oreana schools said at Monday's school board meeting. “We were able to correct a decades-long error. We were provided a check for $942,512. It is in the bank. That's great news. And we expect to receive more than $200,000 more a year moving forward.”
At some point in the past, and Rose, R-Mahomet, said no one is quite sure exactly when it happened, areas on Decatur's north side that are in the Argenta-Oreana district were credited to Decatur's schools when it came to the poverty grant – extra state funds directed to districts on behalf of children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The areas in question are the neighborhood south of Mound Road, the Camelot area, and the Wilder Haven Trailer Park. Jones knew his state funding numbers weren't adding up, and it took him some time and digging to pinpoint where the problem actually was, and 18 months ago, he contacted Rose to ask for his help.
“Frankly, there's no other way to say this, but we would not have gotten this done if it were not for Sen. Rose,” Jones said. “He was able to open doors that would have been closed. He beat on people verbally at times and I beat up on him verbally at times to keep things moving. I was like a bulldog and I contacted him about every other week sending emails. Always kept us on the forefront, always kept pushing. Brought in people for multiple conference calls as well as one sit-down meeting we had in the senator's office, and that's one reason we're going to present him with the things we're going to present him with, because I know how he likes to decorate.”
Rose chuckled at that, and said he appreciated the gifts, which included a miniature Bombers football helmet, a stein emblazoned 2017 with the school logo, and a framed plaque of thanks. He said he represents 50 school districts, and he likes to have items from those districts in both his local office and his office in Springfield.
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The work it took to correct the error brought in people from the Illinois Department of Transportation, Macon County, the Illinois State Board of Education and the University of Illinois-Chicago, which was charged with geo-plotting state maps.
That $200,000 a year, and the almost $1 million in back pay the district received, will make a big difference for Argenta-Oreana, Rose said. A bigger district wouldn't feel the difference as acutely, but even so, one of the things he was adamant about was that Decatur should not have to pay back those funds it received in error.
“Without Damian Jones asking the question, we wouldn't be here,” Rose said. “He stayed on us and we stayed on the state and it all worked out. A lot of great things happen when people don't give up, and you persevere on stuff and you just keep opening doors and this door opens the next door and sometimes doors close on you, but you just don't give up.”
He said he'd be very surprised to find out there were other districts in the same fix, though it's possible there might be a few. Most school districts don't change boundaries unless there's a consolidation and that wasn't the case here. Macon County had been sending the correct maps to the state, but somehow the wrong boundaries were being used to parcel out the poverty grant funds anyway.
“I think it's important that in the mix-up with Decatur schools, we didn't want to go back in and claw back funds. It wasn't their error,” Rose said. “We just wanted to make sure moving forward that they weren't going to go back and penalize them for the error. We don't know who made the error way back then. We know it wasn't at the county level. The county was sending their maps. I think everybody has a hunch where this thing went off the tracks, but it was decades ago and not worth messing with now. It's been fixed.”