The Buck Stops Here: Board Ready to Decide D161 Budget Fate
The Summit Hill school board will meet Saturday morning for a workshop to discuss the financial direction the district needs to take to help eliminate a $2.5 million budget deficit for the 2012-13 school year.
- CORRECTION (4:43 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3): An earlier version of this article said the board would officially vote on one of the directions at an upcoming meeting. Although that had been stated at previous meetings and in interviews, it is incorrect. In an e-mail Board Vice President Joy Murphy said the board just needs to reach a consensus on which direction to go in. There will be no official motion to vote on which direction to go, she added.
The anticipation has been building since late last year for Summit Hill School District 161 parents: What will the district do about a $2.5 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year?
It looks like that question will be answered at a school board workshop at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, at the district's administration offices.
What do you need to know going into the meeting? Patch breaks it down for you.
What's this workshop for?
This is where the board will discuss three proposals to deal with next school year's shortfall. The intent is to set up a three-year financial strategy for the district going forward.
Can anyone attend?
Yes. The workshop is open to the public. In fact, Frankfort Patch local editor Joe Vince will be live blogging from the meeting to allow readers to follow the action as it happens.
What's being proposed?
Over the past weeks, Superintendent Barb Rains has developed and outlined to the public three directions the board could go in when it comes to generating a financial game plan for the next three years.
Editor's note: All the following dollar amounts are expressed as savings.
COST-CUTTING AND NEW REVENUE STREAMS
Overview: This proposed direction is straightforward streamlining of the district, attempting to squeeze out cuts and revenue from different areas. Some of the numbers include:
- Restructure bus routes: $235,400
- Club stipends for grades 1-4: $27,500
- 10 percent staffing reduction for a loss of 26 positions: $570,000
- Switch full-day kindergarten to half-day program: $450,000
- Administrative restructuring: $200,000
- Raise class-size maximums by three across the board: $300,000
Projected net savings: $1.31 million
Overview: This option has probably generated the most talk among parents, largely because no on wants to see his or her neighborhood school closed. Some combination of Frankfort Square, Arbury Hills and Mary Drew schools have been mentioned as being on the chopping block at past meetings.
The projected numbers generated by the district for closing down one school are as follows:
- Section reductions: $120,000
- Overhead: $230,000
- 5 percent staff reduction: $150,000
Overall savings: $500,000
Those dollars dramatically increase when two schools are closed:
- Section reductions: $360,000
- Overhead: $460,000
- 9 percent staff reduction: $360,000
Overall savings: $1.18 million
Overview: The board could decide to ask for an education fund rate increase to be placed on the November ballot. Although this option would cause the least amount of disruption in the district, it's also the option with the highest risk when it comes to effectiveness.
Like other state school districts, D161 relies heavily on local property taxes for revenue, roughly about $32.4 million, which makes up 89 percent of the district's intake. However, 77 percent of the registered voters in the district don't have kids in D161 schools. Will they support an increase in their property taxes by voting for a referendum?
"If we recommend a referendum, and we're telling (parents), 'If it doesn't pass, we know we have to close schools,' because it's not enough to cut $1.3, $1.4 million," said Board President Mary Kenny. "We still have to cut more. If we put it out there, it's in the hands of the community."
Because of that uncertainty, Kenny said she could see the board recommending pairing the referendum option with one of the other proposals in order to guarantee money would be saved.
How does the district plan on balancing its budget if none of the above options equal $2.5 million in savings?
Although the district's shortfall is for the 2012-13 year, the board is taking a three-year approach to that deficit instead of dramatically cutting all at once.
The proposals this year are just the first step, and Rains has outline options to keep the budget under control for the following years. In 2013, the district will negotiate a new teachers contract and look into the sale of 30 acres behind Dr. Julian Rogus School. In 2014, the district can refinance 2005 construction bonds that will become callable in 2014-15.
What decisions will be made Saturday?
What will get decided at the workshop is the overall direction district officials will be taking in order to get a better handle on its financial future. The idea is for board members to discuss the options on the table and then reach a consensus on what approach to take, Kenny said.
"We're going to tell Barb what direction we want to take, and she will use that information to start building the budget for next (school) year," she said, adding that work on the budget would begin immediately so a tentative one could be developed by June. The board approves the school year's budget in September.
And it's in that budget-building process that details are hammered out, Kenny said. The three options presented by Rains are maps for administrators to use when it comes to generating the actual cuts and dollar figures needed.
I've heard that the board members have already met and made up their minds on what they're going to do. Is this true?
That's just not true, according to Kenny, who says she's not sure what direction her fellow board members are leaning. And board members Stacey Borgens and Sean William Doyle echoed that sentiment last week at a public forum about the budget, saying state law prohibits a board from making those kinds of decisions outside of an official public meeting.
What happens after the workshop?
The board begins the process of planning the future for the district, going in the direction the consensus of members agree on.
Once these financial matters are handled, Kenny said the board will be looking at holding a workshop to tackle curriculum in the district for the upcoming school year.