Some school districts owed construction grants by the state could get their money under a bill approved by the Illinois House on Tuesday.
The districts include Pleasant Plains, which is owed about $2.4 million from the state for a high school renovation project.
The House voted 70-37 to approve the plan that would cover $74 million in construction grants to a dozen school districts around the state.
#x201c;These schools were given the go-ahead (by the state),#x201d; said Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill. #x201c;Contracts were signed, and the state of Illinois pulled the rug out from under them.#x201d;
Assistance is provided to school districts with construction projects that are financed through the state#x2019;s capital program. However, the grants have been frozen because of the nearly 10-month-old budget impasse, even though the state promised the payments. Reis said some districts had to borrow money to pay contractors for work that was already done.
Pleasant Plains School Superintendent Matt Runge said the district was forced to use money held in reserve to finish paying for the high school project.
#x201c;We haven#x2019;t received any (construction) money this entire school year,#x201d; Runge said. #x201c;That#x2019;s kept us from moving forward with other projects, not knowing if or when we would receive that money. We#x2019;ve delayed roof projects or other construction projects.#x201d;
Runge said if the district receives the construction money it is owed, that does not necessarily mean those other projects will proceed. He said that decision will hinge on what other financial issues face the district because of the lingering budget impasse.
The $2.4 million in the House bill is the remainder of what the state owes for the high school project, Runge said.
Reis said money to make good on the construction payments would come from bonds issued by the state and repaid with video gaming and other revenue approved by lawmakers to pay for capital projects. General state taxes are not involved, he said.
Still, some Democrats balked at supporting the bill because they said the state will have to pay more to borrow because of its shaky finances.
The bill must still be approved by the Senate.
#x2014; Contact Doug Finke: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 788-1527,

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO -- The new Casco Town Hall and the $600,000 loan to cover the cost of making the building a reality were approved at the Town Meeting last year.

The next step to move forward with town hall plans this spring is to borrow the money from the bank.

Simple enough.

But, with the possible passage of the $2.5 million bond at the upcoming Town Meeting, the town is considering the benefits of taking out a Bond Anticipation Note (BAN).

According to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton, if the residents approve the infrastructure bond, the interest payments will be less if that bond is combined with the town hall bond.

The $2.5 million infrastructure bond, which will be a warrant article at Town Meeting on June 15, would allow the town to complete a couple road-rebuilding projects. Those top-listed are: Edwards Road and Johnson Hill Road. The proposed bond would also cover the cost of replacing the Pleasant Lake/Thompson Pond dam.

"Both the bank and legal counsel have advised that we would get a better rate if we combine it as one loan," Morton said.

"I would recommend a BAN so that we could move forward with the town office project," he said.

On Tuesday, the Casco Board of Selectmen voted in favor of the town manager pursuing more information about the BAN. The vote was 4-0; Selectman Grant Plummer was absent.

According to Morton, the $600,000 for the town hall project is too small a monetary amount to bond by itself.

"If the taxpayers decide they don't want to do the (infrastructure) bond. We can use a five- to seven-year note," Morton said.

"The BAN is two or three percentage points above what you have for a longer term note," he said.

"We have to borrow (money) anyway. The interest rate we would be paying anyway," he said.

The other solution is to delay the town project and wait until the fall -- after the Town Meeting, he said.

After years of bouncing around the idea of different sites for the new town office, waiting longer was not a preference for the Casco board.

Selectman Calvin Nutting asked if the town hall project was ready to move to the next stages.

Morton answered that the site plan went before the Casco Planning Board this month, and is on the agenda for April 11.

"We are waiting for the architect who is trying to nail down the construction, carpentry element" of the project, he said.

"We are going back to site contractors to get sharper numbers," he said.

Morton commended Bob Tooker, the part-time administrative secretary to the town manager and code enforcement officer, for his part in keeping the momentum going.

"Bob has done a great job of pulling everything together. He has been incredible asset through this project," Morton said.

You may have just missed the first two dishes but maybe not. Officially theyre gone, but like so many of Shakespeares stories, all is not what it seems, and both chefs have confirmed they are still serving their dishes: the Othello dedicated grilled chicken hearts at La Sirena Clandestina by chef John Manion, and the Falstaffian Merry Wives of Windsor overstuffed baked sweet potato at Jimmy Jamms Sweet Potato Cafe by chef/co-owner Jimmy Ferguson.

For the next dishes, get thee to Piccolo Sogno for Tony Priolos Troilus and Cressida-inspired seafood stew, and forthwith to Billy Sunday for Matthias Merges beef cheek Yorkshire pudding with Burgundy and tarragon sauce for the Franco-Anglo conflicted Henry VI, Part 1. Merges says his dish will only be available in April, so make haste!

We tasted the first three dishes, and they were well worth not only the food, but the fun Shakespeare nerd memories -- from first high school readings, to performances in parks, to scoring standing Yard tickets at Shakespeares Globe in London.

Chef Michael Kornick (MK, DMK Burger Bar, DMK Fish Bar) told Singh, Shakespeare is my dude, and he sees plays at the Globe every chance he gets. For The Merchant of Venice, Kornick will collaborate with architect/artist Jordan Mozer for an intriguing event creating a lending bank where guests borrow money to buy food and drink.

At Singhs restaurant The Boarding House, chef Tanya Baker and their women-led staff take on The Taming of the Shrew with foie-basted poussin, creamy polenta, charred and pickled asparagus, andsour cherry sauce. The fatty foie gras tames the meat, said Singh, as their plays character Petruchio tries to tame the title shrew Katherine.

Serious Shakespeare geeks will love just the idea of chef Art Jackson baking Titus Andronicus-inspired pies. The Roman versions of his signature royal pies, with braised pork, blood pudding, fennel, olives and spelt will be served as his new Pleasant House Pub, scheduled to open by summer.

Puck-ish Rick Bayless (Xoco, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo) will create a tasting menu to transport guests to the world of forests, fairies and magic inspired by A Midsummer Nights Dream at Topolobampo in October, according to details released so far.

For all 38 chefs, 38 plays and Culinary Complete Works details, see the Shakespeare 400 Chicago link.

We made a concerted effort for diversity in price points too, said Singh, We wanted to give parents an experience of Shakespeare on a cone, not just full-on tasting menus.

To lick, or not to lick? Sometime this summer, Black Dog Gelato chef Jessica Oloroso will scoop Hamlets Blue, churned with Danish blue cheese, pecans and vanilla bean, inspired by the princes descent into madness after the death of his father.

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Twitter @louisachu

NEW YORK, NY Citing the freefall of the coal industry, Standard amp; Poor's downgraded West Virginia's bond rating late Thursday from AA to AA-minus.

The rating agency previously had West Virginia at AA, which is a high grade.

A states bond rating impacts its ability to borrow money.

Analysts said they expect the coal weakness to be a long-term challenge rather than a cyclical setback.

West Virginia still gets high marks for its Rainy Day fund which is currently at $748 million, but that balance is expected to decrease in the coming months with the current budget revenue shortfall growing.