District 153 closes 2018 budget with a surplus

Homewood School District 153 will have a balanced budget with a surplus when the current budget year ends Sept. 30.
 
School Business Manager John Gibson said at the Sept. 24 board of education meeting this is the first year since 2011 the district’s numbers have looked so good. 
 
The final numbers show  $22.53 million in revenues and $21.66 million in expenditures with a $868,000 surplus. When the budget was passed in 2018, Gibson projected a deficit. 

However, the deficit cycle may start again. The 2019 budget the board passed during the meeting shows revenues of $22.58 million and expenditures of $23.20 million with a deficit of $620,000.
 
Gibson explained the district came out ahead in the 2018 budget because it is collecting more in property taxes, a good sign after how hard the district was hit by the 2009 recession, and interest rates are up.
 
In addition, the state released five grant payments to the district when only four were scheduled. That is quite a change from previous years when the district was short-changed by the state by thousands of dollars.
 
When the 2009 recession hit, housing values plummeted and at the same time the state cut funding. These two factors put District 153’s budget in the red. Twice the school board turned to voters for authority to sell bonds that provided the district with a guaranteed revenue source to balance its budgets.
 
The district still has authority to sell $4.5 million in bonds, the second half of revenue from the 2016 referendum. Gibson said the district’s financial advisor will be helping the district strategize when will be a good time to go into the market.
 
The school board may need some of that money to balance the 2019 budget. 
 
Illinois revised its school funding formula in 2017 from general state aid to a new evidence-based funding model. It should give District 153 additional revenues this school year and in future years, if the legislature holds to the law, said Superintendent Dale Mitchell.
 
The evidence-based funding formula is meant to advance fairness in funding. Schools have been supported primarily by local taxes. The wealthier the district the more tax it collects. The system kept poor districts from meeting parity. 
 
The new system places school districts within tiers. The formula is designed to shift state revenues from districts able to provide for their schools to those districts that have been collecting less revenue through property taxes and have greater student needs.
 
The new formula gives additional state money to districts through a formula that considers the number of at-risk students, early childhood education, student-teacher ratios and other numbers.
 
“They put a formula in place and gave us all the money that was promised, so that was a good thing. That helped again for us to have a surplus last school year,” Gibson said. 
 
District 153 is classified as Tier I because it shows only 61 percent adequacy for school funding. The evidence-based funding formula got Homewood schools an additional $500,000 from Springfield. 
 
Mitchell said he hopes the legislature can hold to its promise to provide districts with additional revenues each year, or at least the same amount of state aid as the previous year.  Being that the state is strapped for funds, Mitchell and Gibson will be watching to see how the state shifts resources to schools. 
 
Board President Shelly Marks said the district has taken numerous steps to get through the last 10 years of declining funding.
 
“It was only five, six years ago that we were reeling and losing $3 million (yearly) from the state and we made a lot of really good choices so that we could make sure we were doing a really good job of educating our students,” she told audience members.
 
“Whether the state is doing its job or not, those kids are in our classrooms. Those really lean years have a long-lasting impact because we had to use referendum money to pay the electricity, not for great extra stuff.
 
“Hopefully we’ll be in a position where we can start being more confident that we can move dollars into what we want to do so the kids can get the very best (education) that they can get,” Marks said.
 

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