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Aurora STEM school partners ask Springfield to kick in

AurorUniversity President Dr. RebeccL. Sherrick talks during Senator Dick DurbRep. Bill Foster visit AurorUniversity talk about Durbin's DACA bill AU's

Aurora University President Dr. Rebecca L. Sherrick talks during Senator Dick Durbin and Rep. Bill Foster visit to Aurora University to talk about Durbin's DACA bill and AU's STEM initiatives on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun Times Media

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:26AM

Aurora University leaders and Fox Valley-area science and technology experts made the drive to Springfield on Tuesday in hopes of securing the funds needed to open Aurora’s high-tech STEM academy.

The STEM Partnership School planned in the city would focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

According to a press release, AU President Rebecca Sherrick and the rest of the STEM school representatives met with members of Gov. Pat Quinn’s office, as well as House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Republican Leader Tom Cross and other local lawmakers and state leaders.

“We feel so far its been a very good day,” Sherrick said from the state capital. “People have been very supportive and receptive, and they understand the importance of investing in STEM education. I heard a lot of admiration and respect for the grassroots effort in Aurora, so we’re optimistic.”

STEM school partners urged the officials to approve $5 million in capital funding, which is needed to break ground on the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School, which will be at the AU campus and serve students in grades three through eight.

Aurora University has already raised $7 million for the project, which is expected to cost $12 million, and has donated land, valued at $4 million, to the project. Under the proposed plan pitched to lawmakers Tuesday, the state investment would come from fee revenue, rather than general tax revenue.

“Everyone in Illinois knows there’s a general revenue issue,” said Sherrick. “This wouldn’t come form that kind of source. It would be tied to a new fee, to some kind of new source of revenue.”

AU is not proposing any specific new fee, Sherrick said. Rather she stressed that funds to break ground should come from something like gaming revenues rather than taxpayers.

“While the state budget is tight, it would be unwise for us to stick our heads in the sand and not look at the future of science and engineering in Illinois and the United States,” Sherrick said in the press release. “To train our scientists of the future, Illinois must invest in gradeschool children and projects such as the STEM Partnership School.”

But the timeline for fundraising is getting tight, too. Construction on the 30,000-square-foot school, with eight classrooms and six laboratories, is expected to take 12 to 15 months to complete and must get under way soon if partners want to enroll students for a fall 2014 opening.

When finished, the school will serve about 200 students from the East and West Aurora, Indian Prairie and Oswego school districts. Teachers will also be drawn from those districts and will be able to earn master’s degrees during their residency at the school.

Sherrick said that, while several legislators fully endorse the school, it is still too early in the budget process for any firm commitments to a dollar amount. Meanwhile, the partners will continue to raise funds.

Should they fall short before groundbreaking time, it would be up to AU’s board of trustees at its July meeting to resort to Plan B. “We do have some contingency plans,” she said.

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