Three years ago, Proviso Township High School District 209 finished its fiscal year $14 million in the red. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, the district has broken even.

Over the last four years, the district has undergone sweeping budget cuts and received direction from a financial oversight panel put in place by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2008. The spending reductions have paid off, as the schools – Proviso West, Proviso East and Proviso Math and Science Academy – have been moved to the highest level in ISBE’s financial ranking.

Every year ISBE calculates a financial score for each school district and then places them within four different levels, “recognition” being the highest and “watch” the lowest. The district had been on the state’s “watch” list up until March 2010, and recently it has been bumped up from “review” to highest level of “recognition.”

“This is a magnificent milestone for our school district,” District 209 Board President Chris Welch said in a statement. “This is huge for us, but it is also just one of many milestones to come. Our board goals are to restore financial stability and to continue to improve our overall educational programming.”

After fiscal year 2008, the district faced a $7 million deficit, which turned into a $1 million deficit the following year. Finally, in fiscal year 2010, the district reported a balanced budget. So how did they get to that point?

First, there were multiple reductions in staffing. The district eliminated 15 central office jobs, including two assistant principals, and 13 secretarial or other office support positions. The district also cut 15 operations and management jobs and 37 other support positions, including 10 part-time teachers’ aides, seven full-time security workers and two teen pregnancy counselors.

In other cost-trimming moves, the district has eliminated overtime, shut down its print shop and switched to have all web services, including tech support and web design, performed in-house. They have also reduced the travel budget for band, cut the cosmetology program, switched cafeteria vendors, and reduced insurance brokerage costs. District 209 also participates in the Illinois Energy Consortium, which is designed to lower utility costs among schools in the community.

The district has also cut an alternative program for 18 and 19 year olds who return to school and reduced special education services. The district has opted out of various other service contracts to save more than $500,000.

“We’ve been working at it for four years,” said TaQuoya Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the district. “All the reductions have been fazed in and eventually got us to this point.”

Though many cuts have been made, she also noted that they have increased the amount of grants used to fund other programs.

“This is still an educational system,” she said. “We still have been able to implement and introduce a lot of new programs to boost educational achievement.”

The district also recently announced a proposal for changes to the curriculum next year that would result in a greater focus on core classes and more prep for state tests. They also want to adjust the class schedule so that students take classes for six periods and lunch for one period, as opposed to seven class periods plus lunch. Students will likely have one fewer elective per semester.

Kennedy said these recent changes are not tied to any financial reductions.

Mona Johnson, president of Proviso Teachers Union, said she wasn’t sure how any of the changes would affect teachers.

“We would like to hear more about this and hope to hear more communication from the superintendent in the future,” she said. “It is our hope that the district keeps in mind, students first.”