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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

U-46 budget approved via split board vote


By Seth Hancock
  The Fiscal Year 2017 budget for School District U-46 was approved by a 5-2 vote, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voting no, at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Sept. 26.
  Expenditures are set at $511.4 million, a $3.8 million increase from last year, and revenues at $512.1 million, an $18.1 million increase. The budget is heavily reliant on outside sources for revenues at 38.1 percent, or $195.3 million, coming from state and federal funds.
  Holt called the budget vote “the single greatest and most important vote” board members take as it determines “what programs and expenditures are necessary to core operations of our district.”
  “Unfortunately, yet again, I cannot vote in good conscience for a budget that maintains the status quo and will continue to be unfair to district students and taxpayers,” said Holt who joined Ward and Phil Costello in voting no on last year’s budget.
  Some board members look through “rose-colored glasses instead of scrutinizing” new programs to make sure there will be a return on investment for students and taxpayers said Holt who added the board needs “to prioritize what our needs are versus what we want.”
  One of those wants, according to Holt, is Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) which he called “a high-priced want that takes away from the needs of most students to benefit the select few.” This school year, U-46 is now offering FDK district-wide which is the largest factor in this budget’s nearly $8 million increase in salaries and benefits.
  Holt said that the administration used data from a “special interest group,” likely referring to the Elgin Teachers Association, that directly benefits from the added staff to justify FDK last year but ignored its own internal data of the limited number of students who had already gone through FDK in the district.
  That data, the SUPERA test, in fact showed that half-day students outperformed their full-day counterparts across the board for a 5.75 average composite-point differential (6.25 in math, 3.75 in language, 2.75 in reading) through the four years of available data.
  Continual increases in spending will eventually mean higher property taxes, and Holt said “our residents need property tax relief, and they need it today.”
  U-46’s large outstanding debt as well as state unknowns, such as a possible shift of pension obligations from the state to the district, have Holt leery of the district’s high reliance on state funding and he would like to see the district lobby for “structural reforms” rather than so-called “equitable funding” which the administration has been pursuing.
  The district feels that somehow it can get even more money from a state massively in debt. The Examiner last reported on Illinois’ debt from usdebtclock.org a few weeks ago when it was $149 billion, but in that short time it’s exploded to $163.1 billion.
  “We have again failed to advocate for reforms that would give us more flexibility and control of our budget,” said Holt who added: “We should be lobbying the state legislature to empower the taxpayers by curbing the excessive power organized labor has in the collective bargaining process and to allow our employees the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not they want to join a union.”
  Ward said she appreciated some improvements to the budget with added charts and graphs for more historic trends and that the budget was prepared “in good faith based on direction from the majority of the board,” but from her perspective she could not vote for a budget that expands operations, specifically FDK, during a fiscally uncertain time.
  “I do not support this expansion in operations. Now that this expansion is implemented it will be difficult to reverse it if necessary, in future years.” Ward said. “This expansion places the district in the precarious position of increased reliance on state and federal funding. Very recent history has proven state funding to be unreliable. When state funding is limited or unavailable, property taxes will need to be increased to pay for this expansion in operations.”
  Increased reliance on outside funding, which includes about a 13 percent increase in funding from the state and six percent from federal, as well as the possible pension shift concerns Ward.
  The district does plan to increase its tax levy but use the abatement process again, something Ward called a “sleight of hand.” Although the stated goal of the abatement is to keep taxes flat, in actuality it does increase taxes but not until future years.
  “We are, in fact, increasing the levy extension in a permanent manner while we abate money on a temporary basis,” Ward said. “And I am worried that this is a bit disingenuous to the taxpayers.”
  Costello, who voted against the FY2016 budget, said “the presentations I thought were thorough and comprehensive” and because the budget is balanced and doesn’t included added debt, he could support it. But he did share the same concerns as Holt and Ward.
  “I’m going to be voting in favor of it, but I do have concerns, a lot of which Jeanette has pointed out…. It’s just that it’s a troubling time of uncertainty, and I think that we have some very grave concerns going forward,” Costello said.
  Sue Kerr and Donna Smith voted for the budget and offered their reasons. Traci Ellis and Veronica Noland voted for it, but did not offer an explanation.
  “I realize that with the state of Illinois in particular, finances are always uncertain,” Kerr said. “But I think that we have more of a cushion now than we’ve had in years to face some of those difficulties”
  Smith said: “I’ve been around for quite a long time (since 2001), and year after year I see us getting better and better at putting the money towards the students.”
  By 7-0 votes the board approved $10.2 million in itemized bills, School Resource Officers contracts, a $2.4 million with HAPP Builders, Inc. for library remodeling at Elgin and Streamwood high schools, a one-year contract renewal with Active Network/Bluebear Software ($52,102) and three-year contract renewals with Computer Information Concepts ($1 million) and Tyler Technologies, Inc. ($225,460).

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