WHEATON – After being in the red for the first time in five years, Community Unit School District 200 has proposed a budget with only $25,000 worth of wiggle room.
Staff presented the newest version of the $151.97 million 2014-15 budget at a Board of Education meeting Aug. 13.
Before looking forward, Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Bill Farley delivered the news the district came up $1.2 million short of breaking even in 2013-14.
"It's the first time in four years that we've gone negative," Farley said.
He said a year of high health care and tuition costs drove the shortfall.
Farley said while the Consumer Price Index on which the district's tax increase is based has risen 10 percent over the last five years, only a few areas in its education fund have grown at the same rate.
The 2014-15 budget update included $555,000 in education fund revenues via textbook fees, general state aid, medicaid payments and other line items, balanced out by $885,000 in additional expenditures, with the main culprit being $665,000 in special education outplacement tuition as well as technology purchases and $125,000 in administrative salaries.
Those totals and other large expenses in several categories whittled away at what was originally a $420,000 projected surplus.
To try to keep the 2014-15 budget balanced, the district cut $988,000 in staff – including at least eight full-time general education teachers at the middle and high school level, $100,000 in tech equipment and $160,000 in professional development.
All three were items identified by members of the public as areas on which the district should focus throughout its Engage 200 community engagement program.
"We are only maintaining what we are doing," said Interim Superintendent Faith Dahlquist. "We're not moving forward as fast as possible."
The board seemed disappointed at the reality of the situation but thanked staff for their effort to close the gap in light of fixed expenses such as teacher contracts and health care costs.
"We as a board and we as a state – what we deliver at that level is really being challenged," said board member Jim Mathieson. "Some districts may have more money than we have, but this is where the trend of education in Illinois is going on."
Board member Rosemary Swanson said the shortfall and scant budget were a case of low revenues as opposed to runaway spending.
"It's not that we still don't have to deal with it, but when it comes to 'Are we being good stewards?' it's hard to say that our staff has not stewarded that money as well as could be done," she said.
The board will vote on the 2014-15 budget at its next meeting Sept. 10.