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District 202 board signs off on $250M budget

9/23/2014, 7:38 a.m.
The spending plan for 2014-15 is about $7.8 million more than was spent in the current fiscal year.

District 202, with schools in Plainfield, Joliet, Romeoville and Bolingbrook, provided this news release:

District 202's newly-approved 2014-15 budget should end the year with slightly more revenue than expenses for the second straight year - as long as the state meets its funding obligations.

The Board of Education at its September 22, 2014 regular meeting approved the proposed 2014-15 budget following a public hearing. The proposed budget had been on public display for 30 days as required by law.

Following some fine tuning over the last month, the proposed 2014-15 budget maintains staffing and service at current levels following four years of fiscal austerity, significant budget cuts made to counter the ongoing effects of a weakened economy and 10 years of unprecedented growth.

From 2009-2012, District 202 cut about $42 million in operating expenses, mostly by eliminating about 345 full-time teaching, support staff and administrative positions.

"Our staff has done a great job providing our students and families the best educational services possible while also controlling costs and respecting our limited revenues, especially since the state funding picture keeps changing," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lane Abrell.

NEW BUDGET DETAILS

District officials now expect to receive $250.7 million in operating fund revenues, up about $7.8 million or about 3 percent over the 2013-14 amended budget, which showed $242.9 million in revenues.

The proposed budget shows $250.05 million in operating expenses. That's up about $6.5 million or about 3.2 percent over the 2013-14 amended budget, which included $242 million in expenses.

Salaries and benefits comprise 77 percent of the operating budget. "This figure is about the same every year," Abrell said. "Schools are essentially a people business, so this should not be a surprise."

Repeating last year's strategy, district officials are again budgeting general state aid at less than what the state has told districts to expect - 85 percent of reimbursable expenses versus the state's projected 89 percent -- just in case the state once again reduces funding.

The state has reduced its share of education funding numerous times since the recession hit in 2008.

The new budget also assumes a 2 percent drop in the district's equalized assessed valuation - the taxable value of all property in District 202. The district's EAV has dropped steadily since 2009 when it was about $3.6 billion. The estimated 2013 EAV is $2.9 billion.

Still, the economy has improved enough that district officials anticipate receiving about $1.5 million more in revenues than last year.

However the proposed 2014-15 budget includes enough money to pay for numerous important costs:

  • Maintain school allocations at last year's levels;
  • Support departmental expenses related to continued implementation of the new Common Core State Learning Standards, including the first of four annual payments for 1,000 new laptops bought specifically to administer the new Common Core assessment next spring;
  • Support the Board's Strategic Plan goals for this year;
  • Provide for contracted and projected pay raises for support staff, administrators and teachers; the teacher contract is currently being negotiated;
  • Cover increased benefits costs due to the Affordable Care Act;
  • $2 million budgeted for health insurance self-funding;
  • A $1 million contingency to cover enrollment changes and special education needs as done in recent years

District administration continued to recommend that the district continue working to increase its operating fund balance at a level high enough to sustain regular operations for 60 days if revenues ceased. The proposed new budget's fund balance is now enough to keep the doors open for 40.7 days.

Several neighboring districts all have significantly larger contingency funds - enough to support between 73 and 215 days of operations.

2013-14 BUDGET END RESULTS

The 2013-14 budget ended positively, especially considering the costs associated with last year's bitter winter. Among the highlights:

  • The final 2013-14 budget ended with about $939,000 more in revenues than expenses, thanks to ongoing work to control costs. Original projections anticipated a $959,000 surplus;
  • Salaries and benefits were $3.8 million less than budgeted; all contingency funds were not used; and fewer employees elected for insurance coverage;
  • The district spent $1.1 million less on textbooks than budgeted, because of cost controls;
  • Utility bills were $200,000 more than budgeted because of the harsh winter;
  • Tort expenses were down $430,000 thanks to lower legal expenses, workman's compensation costs and unemployment insurance.