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School District 220 Approves 2014-2015 Budget
At its regular meeting the school board approved the 2014-2015 Budget. The budget will be filed with the State Board of Education and it is on the District website. Beta spoke at the public hearing. Our letter to the school board is listed on the Papers and Writings page. Key points from our comments are:
- The Budget is presented as a set of financial statements without narrative or context. The Budget should include appropriate narrative and be accompanied by a five-year forecast. Those improvements would significantly enhance the informative value of the Budget and make it possible for the public to understand what the District is doing and make meaningful comments and raise reasoned questions.
- The Budget shows a revenue increase of 1.8%, a salary increase of 4.2% and an employee benefits increase of 4.0%. The July 15, 2014 PMA Forecast assumption for the 2015 CPI was 1.7%. It appears that costs continue to increase faster than revenue and faster than CPI.
- The Budget shows “Proceeds from Bonds” in the amount of $2,040,000. The reason for this borrowing in this particular Budget is not apparent. This financial resource should be disclosed and fully explained in the appropriate District financial reports. Such borrowing creates an additional tax levy and the taxpayers should be aware of its existence and how it works. The Board of Education should develop and publish a policy on the use of this resource.
- Senate Bill 16 – A proposed overhaul of the state school funding formula is under discussion. According to an analysis recently published in the local media District 220 could lose $5.4 million (78%) of its state funding.
- Pension cost shift – Although pension reform remains unresolved, the possibility of shifting pension costs to the local school districts is alive and under discussion. Representative McSweeney last week introduced House Resolution 1267 to formally express opposition to the idea of shifting $10.2 billion of education pension costs to local schools. According to the District 220 audited financial statements for June 30, 2013 the State of Illinois paid $17.4 million for pension payments on behalf of District 220. For 2012 and 2011 the payments were $14.09 million and $13.4 million, respectively
In addition to the District 220 specific issues, the taxpayers face uncertain economic prospects driven by unemployment, the financial situation of the state and real estate values. Many residents are senior citizens on fixed incomes.
The magnitude of the potential property tax increases from continuing the current financial model and the exposure to changes in state funding and pension cost shifting is not acceptable. Given all of the above, it is important for the District to develop, consider and discuss with the public plans to deal with the current and future financial needs.
We would like to hear what the District has in mind for addressing its current and future cost and funding challenges. I would also like to share some ideas on those challenges.
Tax Levy Process is Next
Based on last year’s schedule the Board of Education would approve the estimated tax levy (recommended by the Finance Committee) at the November 4, 2014 board meeting. The public hearing on the proposed levy would take place during the November 18 regular board meeting and the levy would be adopted at the December 2 board meeting. The meeting schedules are posted on the District 220 website. The Finance Committee meeting schedule is also on the district website. The Finance Committee meetings are public and often include relevant information on budgets and financial matters. Check the meeting agendas on the district website two days before the meetings to confirm that the levy actions are as described above.
Public Comment at Meetings and Hearings
The format for public comment at board meetings and hearings generally limits an individual’s comments to three minutes and does not include any time for dialog or “back and forth” discussion with the board or district staff. Therefore, if a taxpayer has questions regarding the relevant subject matter in order to prepare comments for the meeting or to gain insight on the subject it is advisable to contact the district finance department (and/or the board or the superintendent) prior to the meeting. Contact information is on the District 220 website.