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The District 65 School Board decided to appoint a Citizens Budget Task Force to recommend ways in which the District could address a deficit of $5.4 million projected for the 2012-13 school year.

The last time the District formed a citizens group to make recommendations on the budget was in 2002, when the District was facing projected deficits of $3.8 million. At that time, the District laid off many teachers and eliminated some popular programs to balance the budget.

The District’s most recent financial projections show a surplus of $5,898 for the 2011-12 school year, and then deficits of $5.4 million (2012-13), $5.7 million (2013-14), $8.0 million (2014-15), and $9.5 million (2015-16).

Mary Brown, the District’s chief financial officer, has said projected revenues for the 2012-13 school year are impacted by a relatively low consumer price index (CPI) of 1.5%, which limits the increase in property tax revenues, and a quirk in the way property taxes are billed, which together result in a decline in property tax revenues for the year. Meanwhile salaries and benefits are projected to increase by 2.9%.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “I do think that we could be facing a financial challenge that’s similar to what many places are and have been going through for the last couple of years. We’ve been able to manage things so far, but we do anticipate that after this budget year, we could be facing some very serious circumstances.”

Dr. Murphy added that it is important to manage the process “in such a way that people understand the nature of the challenge and that you have made good decisions.”

Board president Katie Bailey said, “If we’re going to make changes, we need to know by the end of this year the directions we’re going in. That would be December 2011.” She added that if the District eliminates ongoing expenses for the 2012-13 school year to balance the budget, the cuts will also benefit the outgoing years, because the expenses will not roll forward.”

She suggested the Board form a citizens committee similar to the one formed in 2002. She said the committee could be provided information to understand the budget, understand the choices and make recommendations.

Andy Pigozzi, chair of the Board’s Finance Committee, said, “The challenge is daunting. It’s going to take a lot of time and listening and understanding. … This is a very, very important issue for this community.”

He added that the cuts are not going to be popular. “I’m sure there are efficiencies to be gained … but I think there’s really a structural problem and it’s not just District 65, but every district in Illinois is facing the same issue.” He said the sooner the committee is formed the better.

After discussion, the Board decided it would form a citizens’ budget task force, composed of 20 to 25 persons that would consist of members of the community, administrators, teachers and staff.

The District’s administrators will prepare an application or questionnaire form that anyone in the community may submit. Board members may ask persons to apply, but it is hoped that people in the community who have expertise will volunteer to serve on the task force.

The plan is that applications will be available in June and due in mid-July, and the task force formed in early August.

It is anticipated that the District will provide members on the task force with an overview of the District’s financial picture in the first session, after which the task force would explore potential ways to address the projected deficit. It is anticipated the task force would seek input from the community.

Ms. Bailey said, “We’ll appreciate citizens to step forward.”