Following a brief report from the district’s new business manager, school board members for Forest Park’s elementary and middle schools approved a $13.6 million spending plan last week that is expected to leave the district with more than $3 million in surplus funding. The unanimous vote came with little discussion from board members, but school administrators noted that District 91 will attempt to tie future budgeting decisions directly to student performance.

“We are looking very hard at our service to make improvements,” Business Manager Ed Brophy said following the board’s monthly meeting.

Exactly what the extra $3 million might be used for is unclear, Brophy said, and will depend largely on board members’ priorities and whether actual expenses fall in as projected.

Brophy has been with the district only a few weeks and was brought in by Superintendent Lou Cavallo, who assumed the helm earlier this summer. Cavallo has stressed the need to close a growing achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts as evidenced by standardized test scores. In discussing the likely path District 91’s finances will follow, Brophy referred often to the priority being given to efforts in the classroom.

The money available for instruction in the fiscal year 2008 budget represents a drastic turnaround from only a few years ago. In late 2004 the district saw a $1.3 million deficit in its education fund for the fiscal year 2005 budget. A property tax referendum approved by the voters in early 2004 is largely credited by school officials for plugging that gap. That same referendum, which added $1 to local property tax rates, is also responsible for the district’s anticipated surplus, officials said.

“That referendum is what allowed the district to get out of that education fund deficit,” Brophy said.

In the budget approved last week, District 91 anticipates Fund 10–the education fund-will see $2.6 million in revenues beyond the $10.1 million in budgeted expenses.

Going forward, school board President Glenn Garlisch said the board will receive updates “on a more regular basis” demonstrating how this money is being allocated and its impact in the classroom. Careful monitoring of the windfall created by the referendum will help the district avoid the “looming financial crisis” that haunted the district only a few years ago, Garlisch said.

“It’s not going to last forever,” Garlisch said of the surplus. “It’s going to continue to erode.”

According to the most recent round of test results under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Forest Park Middle School failed to measure up for the fourth consecutive year. At Grant-White Elementary, reading scores among black students also lagged behind federal standards.

The newly adopted budget calls for $13,634,735 in spending against an anticipated $16,761,799 in revenue. On both sides of the ledger figures have been adjusted upwards, with revenues outpacing expenses by some $55,000, since board members saw the preliminary budget in August.

These figures represent a 5.15 percent increase in revenue over the fiscal year 2007 budget, Brophy said, and a 3.5 percent increase in expenses.