The District 202 School Board passed an $85.8 million budget for the school year 2018-19 (FY’19) at its Sept. 11 meeting. The overall budget increased 1.8% over FY’18, and it contains an operating budget of just under $76.2 million, a 2.3% increase over the FY’18 operating budget.  The unanimous vote came after no public comments at the required budget hearing held during the meeting.

“We’ve definitely had worse conversations about the State budget,” said Chief Financial Officer Mary Rodino, who was joined in the presentation by new assistant CFO Kendra Williams.  “We’re not drowning in money from Illinois for sure, but I think for me the biggest concern in the last couple years was what would happen when they introduced this evidence-based funding.”

Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Public Act 100-46, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act on Aug. 31, 2017. This law changes the way school districts receive the bulk of State funds, sending more resources to Illinois’ most under-resourced students.

For the first time in several years, the State passed a budget before the start of the new year which gives school districts a more accurate financial picture in creating their own budget. Ms. Rodino said she expects that State funding will “remain flat, and may decrease if enrollment declines.”   

Revenues and Some Lingering Concerns

The State did make some changes to end-of-career earnings for TRS (Teacher Retirement System) employees, which may change some budget numbers in the future.  A new law says when current contracts expire, the increases for TRS retirees will be limited to 3%, “so staff who are not retiring under the current contract will be subject to those new laws in Illinois, so that’ll be something that’s going to change for us. Our current teacher contract does go through the spring of 2021 and then we’ll have to follow whatever the State laws are,” said Ms. Rodino.

A potential property tax freeze could also require some later adjustments. While it was not included as part of the State budget negotiations earlier this year, there is no guarantee that the issue will not resurface. Property taxes account for 84% of the District’s operating revenues.

There is also a continuing risk that the State may shift the cost of funding teacher pensions to school districts. If that happens, administrators estimate it could cost District 202 more than $2 million a year.

The Corporate Property Replacement Tax continues to be at risk. Nothing definite has been decided, and so far funding appears to be flat. The District receives more than $1 million a  year through the CPRT.

Student fees will remain the same. There was a slight increase for summer school 2017, but not 2018.

Federal aid, which comprises 4% of revenues, is up slightly, but potential costs for some students could affect that amount.

A chart shown to the Board illustrated that State and Federal aid have remained virtually unchanged since 2012, while local sources, which make up the bulk of revenue, have generally increased.  

“That slide really sums up what’s wrong with education funding in the State of Illinois,” said Board member Gretchen Livingston.

Expenses

Most of the increase in budgeted expenses is personnel related, with a 2.7% increase in salaries due to contracts and the need for more staff for the larger freshman classes. The cost of employee benefits increased by 3.94%.  On a combined basis, salaries and benefits account for 78% of total expenditures.  

The school’s values-based budgeting process maintained reduced levels for contracted services, supplies and materials; and personnel attrition did as well.

“Instruction is always the top priority,” said Ms. Rodino.

The budget for supplies/materials went down 2.72%. Purchased services decreased 0.48%. Capital outlay and outside tuition both increased 7%  and 2.81% respectively. The education fund, the largest portion of the budget, increased 2.5%. 

Ms. Rodino credited the special education department with continued “efficiencies” in transportation, with a 5.5% decrease this year and a 12% decrease last year.

Should a property tax freeze or pension shift go into effect, the District will look at how to reduce expenses. Staff reductions would be a “worst case scenario,” said Ms. Rodino.

Board Member Pat Maunsell said she appreciated staff “being careful” with professional development (PD), but said, “I feel it’s really important to invest in our teachers because that’s an investment in our kids and so as we look at all the worst-case scenarios and things, I just hope we can continue that in our values – that that is really high on the list because that’s very important. To me, I think that’s a big piece of how we support the kids.” 

Ms. Rodino mentioned that, “there are some PD components in our larger grants like Title I, for example; and Title II is traditionally used mainly for PD as well, so I like that we kind of always have those kind of in our back pocket. … For the most part, we’ve been able to accommodate most requests, and we’ve done some things also to bring the PD to us so that people don’t have to travel as much.”

At the beginning of the Board meeting, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon congratulated Ms. Rodino and her staff for receiving – for the 10th year in a row – the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award of the Government Finance Officers Association, an international award for excellence in reporting.