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Although the District 202 School Board tentatively approved a balanced budget for the 2008-09 school year at its Aug.18 meeting, predictions for the future were not so positive.
“We’re in good shape because we’re providing you with a balanced budget this year,” said Chief Financial Officer William Stafford, “but that being said, we have a pretty rough economy we’re looking at and there are going to be some consequences relative to that. If it’s a year or two, we’ll still be in pretty good shape, but if it stays for more than a year, we’re definitely going to have some issues.”

Operating expenses for the 2008-09 school year are budgeted at $61.1 million, against projected revenues of $61.3 million. Last year, the District budgeted $59.5 million, with revenues of $59.6 million.

The budget was balanced as a result of approximately $1.7 million in cuts made after a finance committee review last January. About half the reductions came from teacher or staff position cuts; the other half from postponed pension payments and elimination of management positions.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Mary Rodino outlined some of the economic issues facing the District, citing health insurance cost increases of 15 percent, increases in fuel and food costs and reduced revenues due to the national economic slowdown, along with unfunded mandates in special education and a Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 2.5 percent affecting the 2007 tax levy.

“Tax caps that restrict revenue growth, to a CPI that does not properly reflect the increasing cost of labor and benefits, continue to force more economies on the District. That being said, we will continue to live within our means,” stated the budget packet’s executive summary.

Ms. Rodino reminded the Board that 81 percent of the District’s revenues come from property taxes, with other local revenues adding another 7 percent. She indicated that other revenue sources, such as general state aid, categorical state aid and transfers, are either flat or decreased.

Expenditures are mostly comprised of salaries (65 percent) and fringe benefits (8 percent). She said salaries increased only 2.23 percent this year “because of some position cuts”; fringe benefits will increase 3.22 percent, “but will be more next year”; and supplies are increasing 5.24 percent due to higher energy costs. Tuition costs will increase 21.5 percent, “mainly due to increased special education costs.”

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon pointed out to the Board that “this is the second balanced budget I have submitted.”

He also raised a note of caution about the future in his memo to the Board accompanying the budget package: “Careful budgeting will entail some reductions in both academic and support staff over the next several years. The administration will work closely with the Board and continue to identify cost and savings opportunities through attrition and efficiencies in service delivery.”

Dr. Witherspoon emphasized the need to “focus our budget decisions to meet the changing needs of our students, strengthen the financial solvency of the District, and continue to provide an excellent education … during difficult financial times. Students and their learning will always remain paramount.”

The Administration proposed several financial strategies to maintain expense control in next year’s budget and beyond. These include position control and vacancy analysis, energy and water conservation and capital improvements.

According to the report, during FY 2009, all positions that become vacant will be analyzed and a determination will be made as to whether or not the position should be filled. This will be done for both certified and non-certified positions.

In addition, the report stated that “a key management issue will be to conserve the use of both water and energy. A building-use study will assist in the long-range planning for the reduction of energy usage.”

Finally, “new capital improvements in transportation and water irrigation will assist in reducing operating costs this year.”

The Board will hold budget hearings at its next meeting on Sept., with a vote on the budget scheduled for Sept. 22.

Grant Allows ETHS to Expand Workforce Certification Programs

Technical education opportunities for students at Evanston Township High School will expand over the next four years, thanks to a major grant from the Owen L. Coon Foundation. The $100,000 grant, given to the ETHS District 202 Educational Foundation, will allow the high school to develop and implement additional certification programs in the fields of automotive technology, culinary arts, and early childhood education.

The grant is donated in honor of Owen L. Coon, Jr., a 1951 graduate of ETHS.

The Coon Foundation was incorporated in Evanston in 1946 with educational advancement as one of its priorities.  

Richard Briggs, president of the Coon Foundation said, “”We hope that our gift will encourage other institutions to contribute also.””