The Reporter

Local schools lose millions in state funds

Friday, September 03, 2010

Budget figures released by the Illinois State Board of Education earlier this month project a substantial decrease in state funding to public school districts.

The board’s 2011 fiscal year budget shows a drop in funding from $7.3 billion to $6.9 billion for all preschool through high school classes. Major cuts in the $311 million plunge include $146 million in student transportation, $68.5 million in reading improvement block grants, and $80 million in a variety of other grant programs.

More than $16 million has also been cut from the fiscal year 2011 budget of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, which funds Internet access for Illinois public schools, libraries, and universities.

The Department of Education is expected, however, to maintain funding levels for advanced placement, arts and foreign language, bilingual education, after-school programs and special education.

Local government officials predict Cook County will be as much as four months behind the delivery of property taxes, which account for a good portion of school districts’ revenues. But federal aid, which will alleviate much of each school district’s shortfall, is on its way. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn submitted an application Aug. 17 for the Education Jobs Fund Bill (EJFB), a new federal program that has reserved $10 billion in assistance to save or create school jobs for the 2010-11 school year.

How area school districts manage the funds they do receive, and what the shortfall and delay means for students seems a difficult question for parents, teachers and administrators.

Chicago Ridge Dist. 127½

Chicago Ridge School District 127½ received approximately $330,000 from the state in July, but is still awaiting $350,000 from the 2009-10 fiscal year.

The tentative fiscal year 2010-11 budget — which began July 1 and was approved Aug. 10 — made efforts to compensate for the cuts, as well as funding discrepancies. The tentative budget has not taken federal stimulus funds into consideration, and shows a $1.1 million difference between what the school district expected at the start and will probably receive at end of the fiscal year.

“While the entire budget has a difference of $1.1 million, part of that is because we are paying for construction projects this year with funds that we have already received,” said business manager Sue Liston.

The $636,000 shortfall in the budget’s operating fund — a truer representative of the school district’s fiscal position — is less severe and will be mostly alleviated by the $442,120 the school district stands to receive from the EJFB. Liston said the budget will be balanced, without any reductions in the workforce, when it is presented to the school board for approval in September.

District 127½ would “weather” the property tax delay “without having to go out for short term money” if it comes to that, Liston said.

Ridgeland District 122

The state still owes District 122 $700,000. Coupled with the estimated $400,000 shortfall in state funds for the 2010-11 year, the school board has decided not purchase new textbooks or computers, said Assistant Superintendent Eric Trimberger. A number of businesses within District 122’s tax base have petitioned the Cook County courts to lower their obligations by several hundred-thousand dollars, which would mean fewer tax dollars for the district.

Slight increases in middle school enrollment and the replacement of veteran teachers with younger ones have aided the budget. Trimberger is “skeptical,” however, that any school district will receive federal aid from the EJFB. Every year funds are promised from the state or federal governments that school districts do not receive, he noted. As it stands, District 122 has been promised $213,119 in the EJFB.

The music, art and softball programs added within the last few years will not be altered, according to administrators.

A tentative budget that attempts to account for the “many unknowns” shows a $2,000 surplus with revenue and expenditures projected around $21.2 million, according to Trimberger.

“We have reserves that will tie us over,” Trimberger said, “but if it goes on forever it’s going to be a problem.”

OL-Hometown Dist. 123

To combat the $300,000 decrease in state funding this year, Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 has closed Brandt School and laid off almost 20 teachers.

Brandt was used as a science center and housed early childhood programs, said Assistant Superintendent Lauri Calabrese.

“It was a luxury and this just isn’t the time for luxury,” she explained.

District 123 administrators are working with real estate agents to find other locations for these science and childhood programs, which have been moved temporarily to classrooms at Southside Baptist Church and Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Calabrese said.

The tentative budget shows a $1.5 million deficit — $33.6 million in revenue and $35.1 million in expenditures. The $180,564 the school district will receive in EJFB funding has already been accounted, Calabrese noted.

“We have a working cash fund that will get us through low points,” she said.

Evergreen Park District 124

Evergreen Park School District 124 is looking at a $1.2 million shortfall in state funds this year, and its $22.3 million in projected revenue is $2.6 million less than it was a year ago, according to business manager Fran LaBella. The state still owes $500,000 from last year, and the $99,953 the school district stands to receive from EJFB will do little to improve the situation, she noted.

The school district cut 11 teachers and aides last spring, but has managed to maintain all of its programs by falling back on fund balances. These same funds will help cash flows until the county delivers the district’s share of property taxes.

District 124 is now engaged in “zero-based” budgeting, LaBella said. Every administrative item on the budget will be scrutinized, and those that the superintendent and assistant superintendent do not find pressing will be cut.

“You get nothing unless you can prove you need it,” LaBella explained.

North Palos District 117

“It’s difficult to put together a budget in this type of atmosphere because there’s nothing you can hang your hat on,” said North Palos School District 117 business manager Brian Stachecz.

District 117 received four payments from the state last year — two of which were owed from the year before. Expecting only three payments this time around, the school board approved a tentative budget on Aug. 17, with revenue and expenditures balanced around $31.5 million. The regular budget will be adopted at the board of education meeting on Sept. 28.

The $233,234 the school district expects to receive from the EJFB, funds which have not been included in the tentative budget, will help alleviate the state’s shortfall in general state aid, Stachecz said.

EP High School Dist. 231

High school districts will be less affected this year because most of the state’s reductions have been made in early childhood education and related grants. High school districts pull in a greater percentage of their revenues from local taxes. District 231, for instance, receives 92 percent of its funding from property taxes.

The district’s tentative 2010-11 budget touts an approximately $700,000 operating surplus.

“It gives us a little bit of flex,” said District 231 Superintendent Beth Hart. “We just don’t rely on the state for as much money as some districts.”

The district laid off several teachers last year because of a decrease in enrollment.

High school districts receive state aid depending on the number of low-income students it services, Hart explained. The number of low-income students in District 231 is about the same as last year.

“We’ll be in pretty good shape,” Hart said. “We’ve always been conscious of taxpayers’ money and we do try to keep expenses down.”

OL High School Dist. 229

District 229 Assistant Superintendent Rick Hendricks said Oak Lawn High has cut $900,000 — the amount it expects to lose in state funding — from its budget, which tentatively shows $27.8 million in revenue and $28.5 in expenditures.

The contracts of four non-tenured teachers were not renewed and one teacher quit, forcing the average class size up from 26 to 30, Hendricks explained. Preliminary cash flow analysis suggests the school district could have to resort to as much as $3.5 million in short-term loans to make up delayed county taxes.

“But until the money is in the door, I’ll believe it,” Hendricks said.

Community H.S. Dist. 218

Despite a $2 million shortfall, District 218 — which included Shepard and Richards high schools — approved a 2010-11 fiscal year budget Aug. 16 without reducing its teaching staff.

With approximately $107 million in revenue and $105.7 million in expenditures, SD 218 has achieved an approximately $1.3 million surplus that will protect the school district against Cook County’s delay.

“I hope [Cook County] could pay us soon than later, but if not we should manage without dipping in our fund balances,” said business manager Joe Daley.

The school district stands to receive $645,730 from EJFB.

Palos Hts. School Dist. 118

Superintendent Joseph Dubec said the school board for District 118 is anticipating 10 percent less revenue in this year’s budget, but should be able to weather the decrease in revenue with its reserves.

The district could stand to lose 40 percent of its transportation funding from the state, Dubec said, but he does not have exact numbers yet. The school district is obligated to provide transportation to its students, so it will have to dip into reserves to cover any losses, he said.

“The board has been good about saving money for a rainy day,” Dubec said. “Our main concern now is our focus on transportation.”

Dubec said the school district will not need to take out any tax anticipation warrants, or short-term loans, and that it has enough reserves until property tax payments are received, which are not anticipated to occur until perhaps January. The district will also receive stimulus money, but Dubec did not know how much at this time.

“With our budget, we plan for the worst case and move forward,” Dubec said. “We continue to remain positive.”

High School District 230

School District 230 is still expecting a balanced budget this year, despite losing $2.8 million in state funding.

District 230 spokeswoman Carla Erdey said the state is poised to decrease funding by 20 percent, a measure that would cost District 230 $3 million. State funding only makes up about 14 percent of the district’s budget; most of the school district’s funding comes from property taxes — a generally more stable taxing base. A one-time federal stimulus payment of $700,000 will help offset the loss of state dollars, Erdey said.

District 230 has touted a slight surplus over the previous six years. Otherwise, the school district expects to survive the next precarious year without cutting teachers or programs. Administrators have doubled up on duties rather than replace retired staff.

“We’re finding ways to save money in those area that don’t directly affect the classroom,” said Erdey, who noted that expenditures have decreased 5.3 percent to combat the 6.4 percent decrease in revenue.

Erdey said the school board budgeted up to $8 million in tax anticipation warrants — which would cost the school district up to $20,000 in interest — if property tax payments come in later than November. The school board would need to approve the use of any tax anticipation warrants.

On Aug. 26 the district’s board of education approved a tentative budget with operating revenues and expenditures around $119 million. It will be on display for about a month at the district office, 15100 S. 94th Ave., Orland Park. A hearing on the final version of the budget will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Andrew High School, where the school board is expected to vote on it.