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In discussing a $12.7 million tax levy, District 91 board members scrutinized the second largest area of spending for the district and pushed administrators to find ways to shore up a fund that has been bleeding red ink for years.

More than $1.3 million of what the K-8 schools hope to collect in property taxes next spring will be spent on maintaining the buildings, according to the levy approved at the Dec. 13 board meeting. That figure represents a huge increase over what was levied in the operations and maintenance fund last year. In 2006, District 91 sought some $710,000.

However, what will be collected under the requested levy next year is more consistent with what is actually spent, according to school officials. The district will not know how much it will actually receive in local property taxes until the later half of 2008.

“This is what we ask for,” Business Manager Ed Brophy said of the tax levy. “This is not what we get.”

For 2006, the schools received a total of $12.1 million from a levy request of $12.4 million. Another $1.3 million was collected for debt payments, as determined by Cook County.

The cost of maintaining the school district’s four campuses in recent years has outstripped the budget allocation by roughly $500,000 annually. Deficits in the operations and maintenance fund are covered by transferring money from other line items within the budget, most notably the working cash fund, which serves as an emergency savings account of sorts. One solution to plugging the perennial deficit, said Brophy, is to simply allocate more money for those expenses. Doing so, though, means less money will be spent in other areas.

“Doing it this year, and next year even, won’t be enough,” Brophy told school board members. “But when you take resources from one source you have to monitor that.”

With staffing levels holding steady and projections calling for a decrease in enrollment, District 91 will pull revenues typically allocated to the social security and retirement funds to help cover maintenance expenses.

More than $10.4 million worth of the total levy will be devoted to the education fund, which covers teachers’ salaries, curriculum improvements and learning materials, among other expenses. Though there is more than $9.1 million separating the operations and maintenance fund from the education fund, those two levy amounts represent the bulk of the district’s anticipated expenses. The next largest levy request comes under transportation at slightly less than $283,000.

Board member Mary Turek asked how administrators are proposing to control costs over the coming year to reduce any deficit spending in the maintenance fund. The bulk of the funding goes toward salaries and personnel, Superintendent Lou Cavallo said, which, barring layoffs, is unlikely to decrease. Energy costs continue to rise as well, Cavallo said, but areas where efficiency can be improved will be scouted.

“As far as reducing costs, we have,” Cavallo said.

Administrators said it’s likely money will again need to be transferred from the working cash fund to help cover building expenses, but they are nonetheless projecting a positive year end balance of $23,000.