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The District 202 School Board approved a tentative budget for FY 2011 of $71.7 million on Monday, June 28, that is balanced and represents a 1.3 percent decrease from the previous year’s budget.

According to Chief Financial Officer William Stafford, this is the first time in over five years that the District has approved a budget lower than that of the previous year.

However, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon warned the Board that there is a possibility of a total loss of general state aid that would constitute about $1.5 million and the further reduction of categorical state aid which is mainly special education-related funding.”

In that event, Mr. Stafford said there might have to be further reductions in personnel, more employee participation in health-care costs, stipend reductions and reduced professional development and substitute costs.

“I’m not advocating these cuts,” Mr. Stafford said. “I’m just saying that’s where we might have to go.”

The current tentative budget was devised as a result of a finance committee meeting last March and meetings with faculty, staff and parents. At that time several categories of reductions were implemented.

Mr. Stafford emphasized that the budget was reduced by attrition rather than by layoffs, that reductions were spread across the organization and “avoided concentrated cuts in academic disciplines.”

For example, instructional expenses represent 63 percent of the District’s budget, whereas only 52 percent of the $1.6 million in cuts came from the instructional area. Conversely, 16 percent of the budget is administrative and 24 percent of the cuts came from that area.

Administrative reductions included discontinuation of the chair-elect program, reduction of one information technology administrator and elimination of the Special Education department chair position.

Teaching reductions were accomplished by not replacing a retiring teacher in Special Education, Physical Education, English and Fine Arts.

The District is also saving money by going to a four-day summer school schedule that allows for energy savings. Other operating expense reductions include cuts to supplies, food, postage, consulting contracts and summer projects.

Despite the reduction in teachers, Mr. Stafford said that given the proposed enrollment for the 2010-11 school year of 2,893 students, the student-teacher ratio will remain similar to what it has been in the past several years. Since the 2005-06 school year the ratio has varied between a high of 11.59 in that year to a low of 11.0 in the 2009-10 school year. Next year, the projected student-teacher ratio will be 11.27.

Salaries have decreased by about 4 percent, Mr. Stafford said, due to a large number of retirements in the 2009-2010 school year, but fringe benefit expenses continue to increase by 11.8 percent and purchased services also increased by 3.3 percent “due mainly to software maintenance costs.”

One significant challenge to the District financial health continues to be “the Illinois General Assembly and their inability to balance the State’s budget,” according to the budget’s executive summary. “The State’s budget is still $6 billion out of balance and the state is still over six months behind in paying its bills. … The District is still owed over $1.2 million from the State in categorical grants and aid.”

Another important problem is that tax caps, because they are based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), even in a normal year, do not keep up with the kind of expenses that the School District typically incurs. The CPI for the 2009 levy was abnormally low at 0.1 percent, which had a further negative effect on the District’s revenues.

“These are pretty dire circumstances,” said Board member Gretchen Livingston. “It’s important that [the public] appreciate that this is an enormous issue and will have very direct impact on the kinds of things we’re able to offer here. It’s important that people . . . be in touch with their legislators about … education funding in Illinois.”

“I want to express my appreciation for maintaining the focus on academic instruction and … the students,” remarked Board member Deborah Graham. She pointed out that the District is fortunate to be in a balanced-budget position even in difficult financial times and commended Mr. Stafford and Deputy Financial Officer Mary Rodino for their efforts.