Steel plant layoffs may affect school tax increase proposal

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GRANITE CITY, IL (KPLR) – More than 2,000 Granite City Steel workers are bracing for layoffs, and school system officials in the Illinois city fear a ripple effect from the sudden economic bad news could be a blow to extracurricular activities for kids.

The layoffs, announced Wednesday, will lead to pink slips for 2080 workers at the mill. 39-percent of those employees live in Granite City, and here’s where the school system’s financial issues come into play: they are two weeks from a local referendum on a tax hike for the school system.

“This is just another curve ball we have to try to overcome,” Superintendent Jim Greenwald said Wednesday.

He points out that tax increases are always difficult to sell, but new concerns about dollars in cents could lead to many families rethinking their votes. That makes it all the more important to keep working voters up to the April 7th election. Should the measure fail, there could be deep cuts in both academic and non-academic programs district wide.

“We’re at the financial crossroads because of lack of state funding,” Greenwald said.

“Not that it will happen next year but if this referendum doesn’t pass we may be looking at some very deep cuts in future years.

“We don’t want to drive past Memorial Stadium on the third Friday of September and not see the football team or the band.”

Wednesday evening that stadium was home to a track meet, and parents were not lost on the implications of the job cuts, even though they’re said to be temporary.

“I’m really worried about it,” Jennifer Hutson said as she watched her son throw the discus. “He’s very much into the track and the football and it worries me we might not have it next year.”

Nakeesha Bejoile has four kids in the system. She was watching one son run track, standing next to another who is in the band. She’s hoping the layoffs won’t cost the measure votes.

“It keeps them occupied and I don’t have to worry about them being in the streets and doing something that they don’t have no business doing or whatever, so that’s why I want them in a lot of sports.”

At shift change outside the mill, John Bruch headed to his car wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt that didn’t match the mood of the day. He’s been through three of these layoffs, and says he sees reason to believe the Granite City Steel will survive this one, just like the others. The shutdown is attributed to falling oil prices cutting into the demand for steel pipe in the gas and oil industry. He expects gas to be back, along with his job.

But he knows how it is to suddenly lose a paycheck, and he can see the layoffs having an impact on people’s votes on the tax.

“A lot of guys with kids, new house payments, a lot of new vehicles out here. It’s gonna affect ‘em. It’s gonna affect the city. Ya know, it’s a trickle-down effect,” he said.

The layoffs are being called temporary by U.S. Steel. They’re set to take effect May 28th. No one knows when they might be lifted.