District 161 nearly finished with budget cuts for this year

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District 161 nearly finished with budget cuts for this year

April 15, 2015 - 15:06

Flossmoor School District 161 officials called a halt Monday to an ambitious initiative that could have cut nearly $1.7 million in expenses from the proposed budget for next year.

Board of Education members last month trimmed about $650,000 from the proposed 2015-16 fiscal year budget, which is to be approved by September. On Monday, Frances LaBella, District 161’s assistant superintendent for business operations, said those cuts should make “a significant dent” in any budget deficit during 2015-16.

However, LaBella added that state funding is so uncertain that there is no way of knowing how big a deficit District 161 will face.  Earlier this year, she said a $200,000 deficit was likely but it could go as high as $1 million if Illinois does not meet its scheduled school funding payments due to lack of state revenues.

“I wish I could tell you what to expect,” LaBella said. “But I don’t know.”

Board President Gregg Lunceford said he believes no further budget cuts should be made until a new school board is seated in May. Superintendent Craig Doster said LaBella and her staff need to complete work on a proposed budget and cannot wait that long to see if there will be other cuts.

At that point, board members agreed to put the rest of the proposed reductions on hold for the remainder of this budget cycle, with the exception of some possible cuts in bus routes that could save about $250,000.

In February, Doster and Frances LaBella presented the school board with a long list of possible cuts for the upcoming year. They suggested cuts in 27 budget areas that were classified according to their impact on students in the classroom. If all the reductions were approved, District 161 would save $1.689 million in the upcoming budget.

Last month’s cuts came in budget areas that, administrators said, would have no impact on the classroom.

Doster is asking for a realignment of the district’s transportation system by eliminating six to eight current bus routes. The school board postponed action on the new bus routes until after Doster surveyed the District 161 community, and especially parents, to gauge opinion on the proposed transportation changes. Parents have been surveyed and Doster said Monday that responses are being tabulated.

Interested persons can come to a community forum on the realigned bus routes next Tuesday, April 21. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at the Normandy Villa administration center, 41 E. Elmwood Drive, Chicago Heights.

During the budget discussion at Monday’s meeting, administrators and board members also suggested that state lawmakers may be considering a move that would require school districts with healthy financial reserves to pick up more pension costs.

District 161 has about $25 million in reserves that have accumulated over several years, a clear sign of the district’s financial health. Those reserves “could be a target,” said board member Christine Marks.

“That big fund balance looks appealing to our legislators,” she said.