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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

Tentative U-46 budget bumps income, expense


By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education received a review of the Fiscal Year 2019 tentative budget which showed total revenue at $546.6 million, up 7.4 percent ($37.6 million higher), and total expenditures at $534.6 million, up 3.2 percent ($16.7 million), at its meeting on Monday, June 18.
  Dale Burnidge, director of financial operations, said there were still unknowns from the state such as legislation for a possible property tax freeze as well as a “possible cost shift” to school districts regarding pension costs. There will be further budget review at a finance committee meeting on Aug. 6, and the final budget is expected to be presented on Aug. 20.
  The district estimated a pension cost shift costing U-46 $24 million a year.
  The budget increase comes despite the district issuing projections during last year’s budget review showing expectations of sizable enrollment declines for the foreseeable future. U-46 projected around 2 percent decreases in student population each year through 2020-21 down to 36,360, which if that occurs would mean a 10.6 percent decline in enrollment from 2012 highs.
  On the revenue side the district expects the biggest increase in funding from the state through the so-called “evidence based funding” formula from $120.7 million to $156.5 million, a $35.8 million increase. The district expects declines in revenue in two categories, a total of $5 million less in state categorical payments and federal funding.
  The district is budgeting for four categorical payments although it has not yet received its third payment for the current budget year, which was expected in March according to Burnidge. Last year, Burnidge said the district budgeted for three categorical payments.
  Burnidge said the district is planning a $6.5 million increase in the property tax levy. The property tax extension history provided showed a total of $309.9 million in 2017, up $14.1 million from 2012.
  The property tax payment cycle showed that 2017 taxes are paid in 2018 according to Burnidge, and DuPage and Kane counties must estimate Cook County’s property values each year.
  “Sometimes we see some swings in our total extension beyond what the district can levy,” Burnidge said because of the district being within three counties.
  For the 2018 tax year, Burnidge said the district plans to abate $3.9 million, the same number abated in 2017.
  On the expenditure side the largest increases come on staffing costs with a $14.6 million increase in salaries (from $269.7 million to $284.3) and $800,000 in benefits ($97.7 million to $98.5 million). The district expects increased costs in capital outlay ($3.9 million) and purchased services ($500,000) but a decrease of $2.8 million in other objects and tuition costs and $300,000 less in supplies and materials.
  Regarding salaries, Burnidge said: “We do have a number of contracts that are currently being negotiated.”
  The additional costs include the plan to hire 14 additional full-time employees, including new administrative positions “in our larger enrollment schools” according to Burnidge. On the benefits side, the district expects a 7 percent increase in health care costs.
  The district expects a beginning fund balance of all funds of $254.5 million and an ending fund balance of $266.5 million. The beginning operating fund balance is expected at $116.1 million and the ending operating fund balance at $126.3 million.
  Board member Jeanette Ward said she didn’t “agree with the direction that we’re going with here” saying she opposed increasing property taxes as well as adding new administrators.
  “I would like to see us keep it flat or decrease it which was supposed to be the point of increased state funding…. I believe we should use the additional funding from the state to pay down the debt,” Ward said.
  Board member Melissa Owens said Ward was wrong on the reason for the additional state funds saying it “was specifically designed to bring underfunded districts up to adequacy.” She said that there were funds included in the state budget for districts to apply for property tax relief.
  Ward said: “As evidence from your comments that one of the points certainly of the evidence based funding was to provide property tax relief. That’s self evident given that you can apply for property tax relief.”
  Owens said: “With that specific fund set aside for that.”
  Groups that supported the new funding formula that were also promoted by U-46, such as Funding Illinois’ Future and Fix the Formula Illinois, did use talking points claiming the need for the new formula because of high property taxes in the state.
  Board member Sue Kerr asked about the fund balance stating that the standard is usually to have an ending fund balance between 15 to 20 percent. Burnidge said: “After the end of this year, we’ll probably be around 25 percent.”
  Kerr also asked when it would be likely to know if property taxes will be frozen or if pension costs will be shifted.
  “I think if you’re going to see any sort of a shift its probably going to be after elections but before everybody gets sworn in, usually in a lame duck session,” said U-46 CEO Tony Sanders. “That’s when things tend to pass if they’re not politically popular.”
  Sanders also claimed the state has already “in essence” shifted pension costs by lowering the threshold from 6 percent to 3 percent when districts would be assessed Teacher Retirement System (TRS) penalties for end of career salary increases. Sanders did claim it was not a penalty.
  A 2005 state law limited school districts from boosting salaries more than 6 percent, at the time, over the final four years before retirement and districts would have to pick up the additional TRS costs if they went over that standard. Sanders said “it may sound like that’s a hefty raise for teachers” but claimed it was not when taking into account stipends for additional activities, such as coaching.
  The board was also presented with the Fiscal Year 2019 Northern Kane County Regional Vocational System Budget which will have a public hearing on July 23 and a vote on adoption on Aug. 6. The budget has $1.8 million in expenditures and revenues with an expected ending fund balance of $593,433.
  Burnidge said that this budget is “a joint agreement” between U-46 and districts 300, 301 and 303 and is funded by grant funds by both the state and federal governments.

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