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At its Sept. 21 meeting, the District 202 School Board approved a $91.4 million budget for fiscal year 2021. The amount reflects a 1% increase over the FY 20 budget, smaller than the usual 2%-3% annual budgetary increase. 

With remote learning in place for the foreseeable future, expenditures and revenues both shifted, and Chief Financial Officer Mary Rodino and her staff pared $1.3 million from the tentative budget the Board approved in June.

District 202’s share of the property tax bill is about 25%; the City’s portion is about 20%. The District expects to receive about $74.7 million in property tax revenues this year.

Property tax revenues represent 83% of the total operating funds of the budget. These are projected to be about 3% higher than last year: $68.6 million as compared to $66.7.

The budget is balanced, and the District still maintains a healthy reserve.

Although District 202 will not have the contract to prepare meals for students in School District 65, free food is available to all District 65 and 202 families with students eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches.

“Based on federal changes, all families are eligible to come by, so we would encourage people to come by on Mondays for food distribution,” Ms. Rodino said. “We also have some daily distribution; all that information is on our website [eths.k12.il.us].

Revisions to the Tentative Budget, Up and Down

The tax levies of public school districts in Illinois are limited by tax caps – the amount of the consumer price index (CPI) or 5%, whichever is less.

Revenues Reduced: An unexpected boost came in the form of the corporate property replacement tax; the reduction in revenue from this tax was less than projected in the tentative budget in June. The expected revenue was $1.5 million – a projected 25% decrease from last year – but the District received $1.7 million, “so it was more of a 16% reduction rather than 25% [reduction],” from last year, Ms. Rodino said.

Other revenue losses from closing the building to students will be from the lack of athletic events, at least in the fall term, catering and facility rentals.

A hike in parking fees for students was approved in earlier budget talks, but those fees will be prorated if the school opens this year, so that revenue projection was reduced.

The District decided before the pandemic not to increase school fees, and that decision did not change.

Federal aid is expected to decrease by about 3%.

Expenditures Cut: “We always consider values based budgeting even in times like these,” Ms. Rodino said. “And we really tried to not touch things that affect the educational experience, but maintain or reduce levels for contractual services, supplies and materials and personnel.” Nonetheless, she and her team were able to cut more than $1 million from the tentative budget.

More than three-fourths of the budget, 77%, is taken up with salaries and benefits. Salary increases are now projected at 3.1%, down from 3.9% June’s tentative budget. Fringe benefits were also decreased, with some medical and dental costs scaled back.

Funds for travel expenses and professional development were reduced, as well.

There were some “reallocations and staffing reductions,” Ms. Rodino said, but she did not elaborate, and no Board member questioned these. Both she and Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said the District would “minimize those layoffs.”

Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell said the District had redeployed more than 30 people to wraparound services. Staff members are “providing daily monitoring and contacting the student and interfacing with teachers so that the students are really getting the help they need,” he said.

Rising costs: While costs for supplies and materials were cut back somewhat, costs of personal protective equipment, sanitizers and masks – unforeseen in the tentative budget – added to expenditures.  Nearly $30,000 went to ensuring proper ventilation and high-grade filters, Ms. Rodino said.

Dr. Witherspoon said that, a few months ago “when the hospitals were overloaded, and they needed the PPE [personal protective equipment], gloves and masks and everything, we cleaned out our science department. We cleaned out the school and we gave it all away, because we were part of the community.”

Technology costs increased, and the District has been working with T Mobile to ensure there are sufficient hotspots available for students.

The biggest expense, Dr. Witherspoon said, was investing in the “mental health and the emotional well-being of our faculty and our staff and students. … We’ve hired social workers, for example, so that we could be serving people.”

Springfield

The State’s budget woes – possibly a six-billion-dollar shortfall – spill into local school districts. Reimbursements for such things as transportation and funding for certain education supports are still expected from the State, Ms. Rodino said, but some of the amounts have been reduced and some payments are coming in late.

A trio of legislative threats still looms over local districts: a possible reduction or even demand for return of some funding, a property tax freeze and a shift in some pension costs from the State to the local district. These are especially important now, Ms. Rodino said, but “because the State is struggling even more, for the moment these are on the back burner, but I don’t expect them to be there forever.”

Problems in Reserve

The budget has “a very healthy fund balance level of $40 million,” Ms. Rodino said. “It seems like a ton of money, right? But when you consider a $90 million budget overall, that’s right about where everyone would recommend is IT to be.”

She said there is a difference between the State requirement about fund balances – a “bare minimum – and “what might be best practice accounting-wise.

“So we’ve been fortunate, this District, to be at a healthy level,” Ms. Rodino said, because for the last decade the Board followed the advice of the CFO and the Superintendent. But now, since the State’s requirement of a minimum balance is lower than what many school districts feel is safe or reasonable, “there is talk about the State thinking about looking at people who have too high of a fund balance, and some of our neighbors on the North Shore have that problem. But we I think have been right in that healthy range of about a 40% fund balance for your Education Fund, [which] I think is right for you.”

Ongoing Strategies

Ms. Rodino said the coming year is unpredictable, and it is likely that budget discussions will arise periodically.

She recommended some strategies for the coming year, cautioning, “I don’t want to say this is the District’s financial strategy. But these are my recommended strategies: Anticipate reductions and change, reallocate the budget as necessary.

“We’ll be keeping a strict monitoring going up the budget just to make sure that everyone is sticking to the plan and sticking to their pledged reduction budget. And of course we always have to monitor the State budget situation, which is never good.”

Park School Budget

Park School, 828 Main St. is a self-contained public therapeutic day program that serves students ages 3 to 21 from District 65, District 202 and other school districts. District 202’s share of the Park School budget is 40%. Expenditures are up 5.6% and revenues are forecasted to decrease by 10.6%, Ms. Rodino said in a memo to the Park School budget. The $1 million represents a 31.4% increase over last year’s total of $782,321. Ms. Rodino’s memo said once the final audit of the Park School budget is completed, District 202 will likely pay additional monies. District 65 bills District 202 for any residual portion once the audit is finished.”

Revenues from the Chicago Public School system are often slow, and this affects the final audit numbers, she said. Typically  District 202 spends between $1 million and $1.1 million annually as its share in funding Park School.

Sale of Property

On the consent agenda of the meeting was the approval of $245,000 from the sale at public auction of the property, including a house, at 1575 Dodge Ave.