District 63 finances stabilizing
Updated: November 26, 2012 2:20AM
DES PLAINES — After struggling with a $1.7 million deficit two years ago, East Maine School District 63 appears to be on sound financial footing for the 2012-13 school year.
Yet one of the biggest trade-offs for balancing the budget two consecutive years — larger class sizes — continues to worry some parents.
To operate its seven schools for this school year, District 63 expects to collect $45.1 million in revenue and to spend about $44.8 million, for an approximate surplus of $230,000, reported David Bein, the district’s executive director of business services.
The school board adopted the new budget at its monthly meeting Sept. 5.
Bein said District 63 ended the past year with approximately five months worth of expenditure funds.
According to school board policy, the year-end fund balance should represent at least 33 percent of annual expenditures.
Such funds are used to cover extraneous and unexpected costs, such as delayed property-tax receipts, Bein said.
He said the district anticipates undertaking significant capital improvement projects over the next five years to the tune of $6.6 million, most of which would be paid for with the fund balance.
The reserve money also serves as a cushion for growing pension and salary costs.
Bein said the state’s push for local school district to pay for retiring teachers isn’t a matter of whether districts would shell out more, but when.
Staff salaries, the district’s largest expense, are another area where fund balance money may be used in order to fill gaps.
The inability to renegotiate raises for teachers last year resulted in layoffs and more kids per classroom.
Increased class sizes have prompted parents to speak up.
Krystal Zec, who joined the District 63 Board of Education in August, reported the past spring her son’s first-grade classroom at Nelson School had 32 kids.
Niles resident Marianne Gudmundsson said the number of students in her son’s Spanish and social studies classes at Gemini Junior High School is nearing 40.
“I know the difficulty of teaching more than 20 kids in a class,” said Gudmundsson, a high school science teacher.
“Given the budget cuts we heard what’s being done specifically to decrease class size?” she asked at the Sept. 5 meeting.
Superintendent Scott Clay explained the district had predicted a downturn in its budget several years ago, and that the recession only accelerated that decline.
“As a public school district we have two options when our money starts to go away,” Clay said. “It’s usually a combination of those two options: we can cut expenses or try to raise revenue.”
Asking taxpayers to give more during the recession was not realistic, he said, so the district, with the help of a financial task force, identified cost-savings measures.
Increasing classes to an average of 28 students per room in the elementary grades and 30 at the junior high was estimated to save the district $700,000.
In all District 63 trimmed its budget by $2.3 million, and entered the 2011 – 12 school year predicting a $1.5 million surplus.
While class sizes are remaining larger-than-normal, that may change in the near future, Clay said, as contracts of District 63’s four bargaining units expire in 2013.
“We’re in a great position to work closely with all of our staff to come up with salary increases that match the kind of money that we expect to bring in,” he said.
Although the end result hinges on negotiations, Clay said, “we’re hoping this will be the end of the high class sizes.”