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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

U-46 budget continues taxpayer impact trend


By Seth Hancock
  Will taxpayers in School District U-46 see any relief from any level of taxation, state or local?
  The short-term answer appears to be no after the Fiscal Year 2020 budget was presented to the Board of Education on Monday, Aug. 12. Board member Melissa Owens was absent.
  Based on current estimates of receiving $197 million from the state under the “evidence-based” funding formula, U-46 plans to increase spending by $36.2 million to $594.3 million total in FY2020, a 6.5 percent increase from $558.1 million. At the same time, the district is expecting a 2.5 percent decrease in student population with enrollment expected to drop by 950 students, from 38,394 to 37,444, this year.
  Increased spending with declining enrollment has become a long-term trend in U-46, this being the fifth straight year, and it is projected to continue indefinitely according to the budget projections. Spending is projected to rise 14 percent to $636.2 million in 2023 (revenue rising to $636.9 million) and enrollment dropping 9 percent to 34,945, with total utilized capacity dropping from 67 percent to 62 percent.
  With a long-term view using U-46 budget information and Illinois State Board of Education data, if the district’s future forecasts become reality there will have been a 14.1 percent decline in enrollment from 40,687 students in 2012 while costs will have risen 48 percent from $430 million in FY2012.
  From FY2012 to FY2019, enrollment has dropped 5.6 percent (2,293 fewer students) and spending has increased by $128.1 million (29.8 percent) which is over $80 million faster than the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.
  The “evidence-based” funding formula became law in 2017 with U-46 receiving $157 million in 2018, $178 million in 2019 and a projected $197 million in 2020 according to the budget.
  The district is planning for annual increases from the state through the formula of at least $5 million despite evidence suggesting Illinois is in poor fiscal health.
  Illinois is $160.9 billion in debt according to usdebtclock.org, population has continued to decline and it is ranked the worst in the nation for financial health according to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center’s annual report. Since 2010, Moody’s Investor Service has consistently rated Illinois as the worst state in the nation with a near junk-bond status and $234 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.
  To pay help for “evidence-based” funding, the state hiked the personal income tax rates by 32 percent and the corporate tax rate by 33.3 percent.
  Furthermore, state taxpayers have seen hikes recently with 21 new tax and fee increases signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker with more being proposed.
  Supporters of the “evidence-based” system, including U-46 officials, expressed the need for property tax relief as part of the reason for the new funding model.
  Now with the additional lobbied for state funds, U-46 still plans on increasing its property tax levy by the maximum amount allowed under law which includes an expected $3.1 million increase in property tax funds this year and about $6 million annually through 2022.
  Using the $3.1 million estimate in additional property tax revenue, U-46 theoretically could cut the property tax levy by over $30 million and still increase spending at the level it had planned to in the FY2019 budget projections while maintaining a balanced budget.
  If the property tax levy were held flat, spending could increase by $33.1 million in FY2020 for $591.2 million in total spending. In June, the district tentatively budgeted spending at $579.6 million in FY2020 meaning the district could cut the property tax levy by $11.6 million and still increase total spending by $21.5 million. In the FY2019 budget, the district projected it could operate the district at $559.1 million in spending meaning the property tax levy could be cut by $32.1 million and $1 million could still be added to total spending.
  While taxpayers are the ones footing the bill for the increased spending, it’s the legislators who deserve the thanks for increasing their tax bills according to Sanders.
  “Evidence-based funding in the state of Illinois has really done a lot for our school district and our students,” Sanders said before the FY2020 budget was presented. He added: “I want to make sure that we recognize and we thank our legislators.”
  Sanders said that the “evidence-based” funding has allowed the district to “lower class sizes deliberately” and increase the staff size. The number of full-time employees (FTE) is projected to increase by 84 this year from 4,726 to 4,810 while rising by 576, an addition on average of 115.2 FTEs annually since 2016 while enrollment has declined by over 2,000 students since then.
  Salaries and benefits combined were at $344 million in 2016 and are budgeted at $404 million in FY2020, a $60 million increase.
  Sue Kerr, the board’s president, called the FY2020 budget a “great budget as usual” and “very readable.” She asked for more details on the instructional coaches and what they do.
  Trisha Shrode, director of curriculum and instruction, said instructional coaches have been used at four Title I schools in recent years and eight more schools will have them this year.
  The district will place a certified teacher in a classroom to allow the regular teacher to leave and have “collaborative plan time to engage in professional learning communities” with an instructional coach, according to Shrode who said there has been “really exciting data” where they are used. She said the coaches will be used where teachers have voted for them and the district has corrected “some of the mistakes that we’ve made historically… where we hire coaches but no one has agreed to be coached.”
  Board member Eva Porter, a retired government school teacher, said: “I’m excited about that model because I taught under that model and the test scores… it was very, very good.”
  Sanders said that a more detailed presentation of the budget was given at a committee meeting earlier that evening.
  Board member John Devereux commended the detail in the budget saying he had some questions but did not have to ask them because he found the answers in the budget details.
  Devereux also applauded the district for how it is spending the “evidence-based” funding. He said it is “well in line with the state” and where Illinois is telling U-46 how it should be “investing” those funds.
  The public will have an opportunity to address their thoughts on the budget with a public hearing set for Sept. 9 with the board vote expected on Sept. 23.

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