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U-46 budget reveals funding, expense hikes

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 is set to vote on the Fiscal Year 2019 budget which hikes spending by $40.2 million (7.8 percent, to $558.1 million from $517.9 million) and revenue by $52 million (10.2 percent at $561.1 million from $509.1 million) at its upcoming meeting on Monday, Sept. 24.
  Salaries and benefits make up the largest expenditure item at $389.3 million, up $21.9 million (6 percent) from $367.4 million.
  Property taxes make up the largest portion of the revenue side at $303.8 million, up from $303.4 million (0.1 percent).
  The largest increase in revenue comes from the state’s so-called “evidence based funding” as U-46 expects $174.5 million, up from $120.7 million (44.6 percent) last year.
  Board member Jeanette Ward has expressed opposition to this budget stating at the Aug. 20 meeting, when the budget was presented, that she opposes expanding operations, this budget including 54 new positions, and she believes the district “should be paying down the debt and reducing property taxes.”
  “I don’t support expanding operations while enrollment is declining as it’s projected to,” Ward said. “There’s also the issue of pensions and potential cost shift to the district, which the executive summary of the budget document admits is a possibility.”
  U-46 expects a 1.9 percent decline in enrollment this year from 38,875 to 38,135, a trend it continues to expect for the foreseeable future.
  Using budget projections and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) data, if the districts forecasts are realized there will have been a 13.1 percent drop in enrollment from 2012 to the 2021-22 school year while costs are expected to rise by 36.3 percent over the same period as U-46 plans to annually increase costs and revenue despite enrollment declines.
  Additionally on the districts reliance on state funds, Ward said: “At the state level, the Illinois budget was presented to voters as balanced but a different, more truthful story was presented to bond investors. There is a ‘structural imbalance,’ which means deficit, in this year’s Illinois budget of at least $1.2 billion. There is $129 billion in unfunded pension liability. This imbalance at the state level cannot continue forever. Eventually there will be stark consequences.”
  The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) issued a report to potential bond buyers admitting to at least a $1.2 billion deficit. The GOMB report also states: “The State provides no assurances as to how, when or in what form this structural deficit might be addressed.”
  Illinois’s current debt is $148.9 billion according to usdebtclock.org, up from $148.8 billion when The Examiner last reported on this proposed budget a few weeks ago.
  L. Dean Hufsey, of Elgin, addressed what he called “skyrocketing per student spending” in U-46 while academic results have been flat or declining as he spoke during public comment at the Sept. 10 board meeting. He reiterated a Thomas Sowell policy paper he previously raised which stated  “failure attracts more money than success” in the government school system.
  Hufsey noted the ISBE’s data shows that 72 percent of U-46 students are deemed minority and 61 percent deemed low income.
  “These numbers are used as talking points by the district to ask for more state funding, however the data shows that more money has not equated to better results in U-46,” Hufsey said. “In fact, the numbers have worsened.”
  The ISBE’s data shows that per student spending has increased $2,434 since 2012, but over the years of data available the number of freshmen considered on track for graduation has dropped from 96 percent in 2014 to 81 percent in 2017. Additionally, the number of students to meet or exceed standards on the PARCC test has dropped from 33 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2017, and those considered at target or advanced on the Dynamic Learning Maps test have declined from 24 percent in 2015 to 11 percent in 2017.
  “These numbers are intolerable, and every effort should be made by this board to ensure that these trends do not continue,” Hufsey said.





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