Students outside of Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park, where District 209 central offices are housed. | File

The Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education quietly adopted the budget for the 2022-23 school year during a Sept. 27 special meeting, three days before the state deadline set by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Missing that deadline could affect districts’ access to property tax revenue. 

The budget is projected to have a surplus of around $20 million. Throughout the meeting, several board members expressed concerns that it’s not clear exactly how much the district is spending on important issues such as special education, bilingual education and transportation. Claudia Medina and Amanda Grant, who voices those concerns, voted against the budget 

Board President Della Patterson defended the budget, saying that this is the way the district has always presented the budget. 

The board was scheduled to adopt the budget on Sept. 13, but that meeting was overshadowed by complaints from parents, students and teachers about inadequate staffing levels affecting bus service and students left in unstaffed classrooms. 

According to the presentation by Cedric Lewis, the district’s chief financial officer, employee expenses accounted for the largest slice of the budget pie, with a little under $45.3 million going toward salaries, and a little under $11.3 million going toward benefits. Around $18.6 million was allocated toward student services. Around $20.5 million went toward supplies and a little over $16.9 million went toward school equipment. Around $1.5 million went toward tuition for special education programs and alternative schools. 

The remaining $13.3 million was categorized as “other.” Lewis said that some of the investments include money for school bus services, more money toward technology and the district Facilities Master Plan, as well as more spending on “Social and emotional learning,” and restorative justice practices.

Lewis’ presentation also touched on revenues. Like all suburban schools, D209 is subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), which effectively caps the property tax increases at either the changes in the Consumer Price Index or 5%, whichever is smaller. This year’s cap is 5%. 

Lewis said that he planned the budget under the assumption that the increase would be 2%, because he wanted to budget conservatively. 

Lewis said that he is budgeting for federal funds the district received to address COVID-19, with some of that money used to address learning loss and to make facility improvements as part of the district’s five-year Facilities Master Plan. 

Throughout the meeting, board member Claudia Medina complained that the budget didn’t give enough details about how the funding specifically breaks down. 

Board member Samuel Valtierrez said that he was also worried about the apparent lack of funding for bilingual education, which according to the budget will apparently get about $93,000. He said he works with organizations assisting asylum-seekers and that his wife has shared with him her experiences as a Spanish-speaking student in D209.

“My wife was one of [the English language learners] 20 years ago,” he said. “She was put in special education because of it. That was not the right thing to do. They’re not special kids, they just don’t speak the language.”