Numbers courtesy District 91 Board of Education

Forest Park schools will be operating at a deficit for fiscal year 2018.

Edward Brophy, vice superintendent for operations, presented the projected budget, which began on July 1, 2017, to the District 91 school board at the September monthly board meeting on Thursday.

The projected spending for the year amounts to $20.4 million, while the projected revenue lands at $17.9 million, leaving $2.5 million that will likely come from the district’s reserves.

About 88 percent of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes, and other local sources. The state’s portion to the district makes up 7 percent, while the federal government is 5 percent. Brophy noted that only 75 percent the state’s portion was factored in, because the state has had a history of making their payments to the district later than the expected date.

In an email summary of his presentation, Brophy explained that the declining revenue had multiple causes. First, a seven-year declining trend in property taxes and an average low price for goods and services has caused the annual education levy to decline by more than $950,000. 

In normal circumstances, this could be fixed by calling for a referendum to raise the levy, something school districts do every seven to 10 years. However, continued economic uncertainty has led District 91 to hold off. The district’s last referendum was 13 years ago. Another revenue factor is the state’s contribution. 

The Illinois General Assembly passed a new formula for school funding in August, but it has its drawbacks. The formula does not relieve school districts’ reliance on property taxes for its funding. This new formula invests a dollar amount per student, but does not account for a district’s current infrastructure nor community values, Brophy said. 

One example of those values is the amount the state adds per gifted student – just $40 – an amount that drew surprise from board meeting attendees. District 91 spends more than $40 per student for its gifted program, he said, and went on to say the formula had its positives and negatives.

“It could definitely affect us in a negative way, statewide it could affect districts in a positive way, a more equitable way,” Brophy said at the board meeting.

In terms of District 91 expenditures, about 66 percent, or $13.1 million, is specifically earmarked for academic and social-emotional learning. This includes things like teacher salaries; gifted, special education and bilingual programs; and psychology services.

Operations and building maintenance for the five schools in the district require 25 percent, or $5.3 million, of the budget, and school and district leadership use the last 9 percent, coming in at $1.8 million.

In a move to show the district is serious about spending money thoughtfully, a policy change has been introduced that would put stronger limitations on what the District 91 Board of Education members can be reimbursed for when they attend conferences and other district-related events. 

Under the new policy, reimbursements for money spent on food during travel would be limited to national standards based on the IRS tax rates for the area the members travel to. The policy seems to have strong board support and will be voted on at the October meeting.

“It is pretty consistent with business practices, and it is consistent with what we are doing district-wide. I think it’s important for the board to demonstrate that we’re tightening our belt across everyone and they’re involved in that as well,” said District 91 Superintendent Dr. Louis Cavallo.

The fiscal year budget was passed by a unanimous vote.

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