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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 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, .

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

SCHOOL CLOSINGS

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 , and schools .

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

REFERENDUM

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?

READ:  

"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 . 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.

READ:

"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.

161parent/taxpayer February 03, 2012 at 07:55 PM
When we passed an unbalanced budget this year why did we decide to add administrative staff to compound the deficit? Why have we not maxed our tax cap in any of the last 3 years if our financial outlook was already looking bleak? Going to referendum before taking these steps is unacceptable. 4 out of the 7 members of the board have been serving since 2009. You all own this. Talk of board members not understanding the finances of the district is unacceptable you took on the responsibility of learning how to read fund balances when you took your oath of office. What are we as a district going to value? Do we value programs or buildings? I believe that we should value programs. If we are truly in as deep a hole as you say we are then we need to save our programs, which benefit our students, by closing Arbury Hills and Frankfort Square. Lease out one with an out clause negotiated in if we need to reopen the building to our students and sell the other building and the land attached to a developer. Buildings do not educate students, programs do. District programs and class caps need to be maintained. Closing the two building will lead to consolidation of the administrative as well as teaching staff without a loss to student programing. On top of this the district needs to take steps to cut and control spending. Adding administrative positions that did not previously exist when in budget crisis does not give me confidence that the board understands this.
taxpayer February 03, 2012 at 08:29 PM
HOLY COW.............you just uttered my words verbatim. I whole heartedly agree. People need to realize that just because we close a school or 2, that doesn't mean all teachers and suport staff will be let go. Those teachers most likely will follow the students to surrounding schools. We need these programs for the students. We also need full time kindergarten. Again, these little 5 year olds deserve the same education that the children before them had. Full day kindergarten is one of the many things that draw families to our community. And yes.............why did we hire an Asst. Superintendent at a salary of $120,000 (not including benifits) BEFORE we even hired a Superintendent??? Too many Chief's and not enough Indians if you ask me.

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