At its June 14 meeting, the District 202 School Board approved a tentative budget for the 2021-2022 school year (FY’22).

The tentative budget projects that the District will operate with revenues and expenses each coming in at $85.6 million, up $6.3 million or 7.4% more than the budget for FY’21.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said in a memo to the Board that the increase from one year to the next is typically between 2% and 3%. Both he and Mary Rodino, Chief Financial Officer, said the higher-than-normal increase in FY’22 is due to two things.

First, in FY’21, they said, expenses were lower than normal due to the pandemic and remote learning. So, when this year is compared to last year’s budget the increases will be higher than normal.

Second, they said, the budget for FY’22, includes a one-time federal grant of $2.3 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. The total of $3.7 million in federal ESSER III funds will be spent over two years.

Ms. Rodino said, “I don’t want you to have any sticker shock when we see the increase in percentages. It’s really a very moderate increase in all areas.”

Supt. Witherspoon added that while there are many uncertainties and unknowns, “I just want to tell you that I feel very confident about where we are budget wise and where we are financially.”

It appears that the District will close out the year ending June 30, 2021 (FY’21) in good shape. Dr. Witherspoon said, “We will be ending this fiscal year in very good shape.” 

Ms. Rodino said, “The jury is still out on our actuals for the 2021 fiscal year.” She added, “We’ll be bringing those to you officially in December. … But I think overall, we’ll all be really pleased with the results. And that’ll help us going forward.” 

Budgeted Operating Revenues

Property taxes – which are subject to property tax caps – account for 83% of the District’s operating expenses. Property tax revenues are projected to increase by 2.95% over the amount budgeted for FY’21.

Supt. Witherspoon said, “Tax caps do not keep up with the increased costs of supplies, energy, services, health benefits, and employee compensation.”

Nonetheless, the District is projecting a balanced budget for the year.

Amounts received for the Corporate Replacement Property Tax are pegged at $1.8 million, a 12% increase from the amount budgeted in FY’21, which had been reduced due to the pandemic.

Other Local Revenues are projected to total $3.5 million, up from $2.8 million budgeted for FY’21. The FY’21 amount was also reduced due to the pandemic. The amount budgeted for FY’22 is in line with pre-pandemic levels from FY’20, said Ms. Rodino.

State funding under the Evidence Based Funding formula is expected to be flat for FY’22.

Categorical State Aid is budgeted at about $1.1 million, up 26% over FY’21, but just slightly more than FY’20 levels. Categorical State Aid provides funding for specific programs such as special education room and board, transportation, and some bilingual programs.

Federal funding is projected to be $5.7 million. The funding is projected to increase by 89% over the amount budgeted for FY’21 due to ESSER funds. Supt. Witherspoon said the federal aid includes $2.3 million in ESSER funds. About $1.4 million of the ESSER funds are allocated to Education and $900,000 to capital improvements.

Budgeted Operating Expenses

Salaries and benefits account for 76% of operating expenses.

Ms. Rodino said salaries are estimated to be $58.5 million, an increase of about 5.7% over the amount budgeted for FY’21. She said the FY’21 budget for salary expenses was lower than normal due to the pandemic. For example, some employees who had been laid off in FY’21 were rehired. The hours of some employees whose hours were cut back last year have been restored.

“So that’s why those increases in salary numbers are larger,” said Ms. Rodino. “Normally, we would come to about a 3% increase. But because we’re sort of building back in some things that we had cut the last year, that’s why you see a higher percentage.”

She said the cost of benefits, which includes health insurance, is increasing to about $7.1 million, an increase of about 0.4% over FY’21.

Purchased services are increasing to $7.5 million, or about 9.5% more than last year. Again, Ms. Rodino said the budgeted expenses were lower than normal in FY’21 due to the pandemic.

Supplies and materials are increasing to $4 million, up 26%. Ms. Rodino said the increase is due to a lower base in FY’21 due to some cuts in FY’21 and remote learning.

Capital expenditures are increasing to $2.5 million from $1.5 million in FY’21. Ms. Rodino said the increase is due to about $900,000 in ESSER funds that “is scheduled primarily for construction projects throughout the building that will improve airflow, HVAC, and those type of things.”

Potential Threats

Supt. Witherspoon said the budget is subject to some unknowns due to COVID-19 and some uncertainties due to what legislators in Springfield might do. 

He said, “A property tax freeze remains a potential threat. Another lingering financial threat from the State is the pension reform measure. If it would someday pass, the State legislature could assess school districts the normal cost of the [Teacher Retirement System] pension which could amount to over $2 million a year in new expenses to the District shifted from the State of Illinois.” 

He said another factor is, “We do not know how the current economic downturn will ultimately affect interest rates,” which could impact the District’s local revenues.

He also mentioned “all the unknowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the unknown needs and costs looming in the future.

“Because of these significant unknowns, close monitoring of economic and political events over the next year will continue to be critical,” said Supt. Witherspoon.

Board Comments

Board member Gretchen Livingston said when the administration comes back to the Board with its updates to the tentative budget, it should have its allocated pandemic funding of around $3 million and a better sense of how the money will be spent. She said, “There are some parameters around how we use that money and prioritize our students and help them through this time and making up for any lost learning.”

She said the Board should hear more about the spending of the federal funds. “Where is it going?  What are you going to do with it? And I think it’s important to talk about that in this setting, so that we’re all part of the conversation, and so that our community understands and knows that we’re going to benefit from this influx of money, but we’re also having to make up for losses over the course of the pandemic.” She said a logical time would be “when we’re back in the fall.”

Ms. Rodino said, “We’ve been talking about things like the social emotional aspects, the mental health aspects, the summer school,  the enrichment programs … and there’s technology.”

She added, “We definitely have a plan to collaborate.”

Board Vice President Monique Parsons said she agreed that the Board should “really home in on how [the funding] is being used. … I think it’s important for us to know, I think it’s important for the community to know.”

Ms. Rodino said there would be some prioritization on how the funds would be used. “I think everyone will be thoughtful and open and definitely take input, because I think they’re already getting it. “

Board President Pat Savage-Williams agreed that the District should be transparent in how it is using the money.

Recommended Strategies Reflected in the Budget

In a memo to the School Board that accompanies the tentative budget, Supt. Witherspoon said he is recommending the following strategies that are reflected in the budget:

  • Implement the new block schedule in the fall of 2021.
  • Expand the literacy lab supports.
  • Add a social worker to enhance therapeutic services at the Day School.
  • Add an athletic trainer instead of outsourcing those services to enhance student wellbeing with a staff member who is assimilated into the culture of ETHS.
  • Add a science paraprofessional to facilitate setting up science labs that will be used back-to-back with the new block schedule.
  • Add two new Section 504 case managers required to fully support students needing additional accommodations.
  • Continue equity work and addressing racial disparities in achievement with the staff, students, and greater Evanston community, and expand initiatives to increase and improve equitable learning opportunities to benefit all students.
  • Transform equity training to a more deliberate antiracist agenda.
  • Improve the learning experience by raising the academic expectations to include implementing honors challenge courses in all departments.
  •  Identify and implement asset-based strategies to address Black male achievement and success.
  • Use multiple measures and a new multivariable assessment system aligned to ETHS predictors by more precisely identifying and monitoring each student’s career readiness. Use that individualized data to counsel and advise students and their parents for post-secondary planning and transitioning.
  • Transition to a Career Pathways Model, understanding that pathways may include college, post-secondary training, advanced certifications, or on-the-job training as examples.
  • Define Portrait of a Graduate to authentically demonstrate the value of an ETHS education and assist students in making informed decisions about the career pathways they are pursuing.
  • Continue one-to-one technology program by equipping all incoming freshmen with a new Chromebook computer as well as a hotspot for home connectivity when needed.
  •  Continue exciting partnership and increasing skill development with Northwestern University involving STEAM and other cutting-edge learning opportunities for our students and staff.
  • Continue the numerous partnerships with Northwestern University in research, cooperative programs, and college scholarship opportunities. And grow the NEERA partnership with Northwestern and District 65.
  •  Continue the Geometry in Construction classes and partnerships with the community, Evanston businesses, the City of Evanston and Community Partners for Affordable Housing who are providing assistance with this program.
  • Continue the Algebra in Entrepreneurship class and continue to partner with the Evanston business community to expand this learning format.
  •  Continue support of the Mayor’s Employers’ Advisory Committee that is providing career exploration, shadowing opportunities, internships, and job placement for students.
  •  Continue strengthening the System of Supports for students, a commitment providing personalized support to raise achievement for all students, including Academic Interventionists, Wildkit Academy, Academic Study Centers, Freshman and Sophomore Study Halls with Support, Hub Student Center, College and Career Counseling, Y.O.U. and Y.J.C. on-site partnerships, team ASAP, freshman and new student transition program and more.
  • Increase interventions to increase student well-being such as support during hospitalizations, support for transitions, ETHS Transition House, ETHS Day School, grief support, Restorative Justice, alternatives to suspension, conflict resolution, developing soft skills that build confidence and success in life, nutrition and more.
  • Expand the Acknowledge, Care, Tell initiative to enhance student and staff well-being.
  • Continue to participate actively in Evanston Cradle to Career to bring about systemic and equitable change in the community.

“In addition to all these important improvements, the District will continue to invest in textbooks and instructional materials, technology, preventive maintenance, our outstanding extracurricular and athletic programs, AVID, STAE, AP classes, chem/phys, the fine and performing arts, career education, counseling, social work, health services, our planetarium, facility upgrades, and so much more that defines an ETHS investment in education,” said Supt. Witherspoon.

Approval of a Final Budget

Administrators plan to update the budget with more current information in August or early September. The Board is scheduled to approve a final budget on Sept. 13.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...