As Flossmoor School District 161 heads toward a Sept. 13 vote on its fiscal year 2022 budget, it is expecting an operating surplus of approximately $64,000 for the fiscal year — which runs from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022 — but an overall deficit of $671,595 with construction, according to a report delivered Monday, Aug. 30, by Associate Superintendent Fran LaBella.
Total revenues are anticipated to be $37.43 million for FY22, while expenditures are anticipated to be $38.10 million. But LaBella emphasized that the budget is a “roadmap” based on assumptions and not actuals, with current circumstances making the next week hard enough to predict, let alone the next month or year.
“I have never built a budget like I did this year,” LaBella said.
That said, she told the board property taxes are “business as usual” at 93% collections, and state funding — which includes evidence-based funding, mandated categoricals and grants — has been “pretty stable,” too. The district also has a good idea of what it will receive in Elementary And Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act during the fiscal year, as well as federal grant opportunities.
“There are some things that we can say we’re feeling pretty good about with where things are going,” LaBella said. “The revenue side was pretty easy.”
The majority (54%) of expenditures come from salaries, which are estimated to be $20.46 million in FY22. Benefits account for another 13% of the budget at $5.06 million. Construction for the year is expected to cost $736,000.
Despite the unbalanced budget overall, LaBella said the district does not need a deficit reduction plan because in relation to that concern the state only looks at four operating funds: education, operations and maintenance, transportation and working cash. District 161 has a deficit of $323,280 across those funds. The state requires a board to have more than three times its deficit in reserves — in this case $969,840 — to avoid a deficit reduction plan. District 161 has a fund balance of $26.29 million.
“Clearly, we have a long way to go before we need to worry,” LaBella said.
Board Vice President Cameron Nelson noted while the district may be in a decent spot with its fund balance at the moment, Illinois still spends more than neighboring states on education, largely because teachers cost more here. District 161’s revenues are up right now because of ESSER funds, but those will eventually “sunset,” leaving the district with choices on how to balance its budget going forward. The board needs to take a hard look at what programs are working for District 161 and get rid of things that are not, Nelson said.
“A reckoning is going to come sooner or later,” he said, noting the board should prepare before then. “If we ignore the problem, it’s going to catch up to us sooner or later.”
LaBella noted some recurring services — five math specialists, Saturday school and Elevate Summer Academy, for instance — are tied to ESSER funds right now. That means the board will ultimately need to find room in the operating budget if it wishes to keep those services. Superintendent Dana Smith said those conversations will likely happen next summer.
Board Member Misha Blackman, who serves on the district’s finance committee, said the finance department needs direction from the board on any potential cuts.
“Our budget is our moral compass,” Blackman said. “We can cut things, but you don’t want your finance people to take control.”
LaBella also outlined district expenditures per pupil by site in her budget presentation. Flossmoor Hills Elementary School, for example, spends $15,742 per student. Heather Hill spends $16,236, Serena Hills $15,701, Western Avenue $14,819 and Parker Junior High $15,771. Western Avenue is not a Title I building, LaBella added, meaning the other buildings are supposed to have more funding to get more services to the students who need them. Heather Hill, the highest, has most of the district’s self-contained programs and more services flowing through that building as a result, LaBella explained.
“The rest are in a pretty tight group,” she told the board. “You’re doing a really good job at making sure services are equitable across all schools.”
The school board is expected to vote on the budget at its Sept. 13 meeting. Tax levy discussion is expected at a future meeting.