More than three-quarters of District 65’s expenditures for the coming school year remain uncertain as teachers and the administration continue to negotiate salaries and benefits.
The board of education passed a tentative budget for fiscal year 2012-13 on Monday night, including a five percent reduction in expenditures. But since teachers’ contracts expired this year, the ultimate figures are still up in the air while district officials and union representatives meet with a federal mediator to determine another contract.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, with this budget and with budgets in the future,” said District 65 comptroller Kathy Zalewski. “Eighty-five percent of our operating expenditures are being negotiated,” she added, explaining that teacher salaries make up 70 percent of expenditures and teacher benefits add another 15 percent.
As part of its plan to balance the 2012-13 budget, the district has proposed to reduce the number of fine arts and physical education staff by six positions. Four of those cuts would be made through staff retiring or leaving the district, while art teachers at and elementary schools were notified earlier this year that their jobs were on the line. The remaining art teachers would travel among schools, teaching more class sections so that students had the same amount of art instruction time.
In , board president Katie Bailey said the proposed cuts were necessary to stave off major financial troubles in the future.
“Our process began last spring, when we saw a large deficit looming,” Bailey said. “Large deficits and the cuts they demand can destabilize a school district.”
But union members have the district’s plan to trim the budget by eliminating some elementary fine arts teachers and increasing other teachers’ class time. While the union has been negotiating with the administration since March, representatives have been unable to agree on some parts of the contract. In June, both parties agreed it was necessary to bring in a federal mediator. There are five such meetings scheduled in August; if the school board and the union can’t come to an agreement after those meetings, either party may request arbitration from the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
Although the discussions are confidential, union president Jean Luft has said that the discussions “stalled around a series of proposed changes for the next school year.” The union has already given the initial authorization for a strike.
While the district is attempting to control costs, the number of students expected to enroll is rising. This year, Zalewski said the district projects at least 120 new enrollments, bringing the total number to 6,929, not including its special programs at Park School, Rice Education Center and preschool students.
Property tax revenues are expected to decrease next year by 5 percent, mainly because the county overextended its payments in spring 2012, according to Zalewski. The district paid for several services in advance to make up for the expected reduction in future payments, however.
State aid will increase overall in 2012-13 because the school has more students, according to Zalewski. Federal aid has also increased, and includes a five-year grant of $100,000 per year for the district’s early childhood education center.
Overall, the district’s operating expenditures are projected to decrease from the $106,753,796 spent in 2011-12 to about $101,408,044 in 2012-13, Zalewski explained. With a one percent decrease projected in salaries and a one percent decrease projected in budgets, the total projected decrease in expenditures is five percent.
Board vice president Andrew Pigozzi praised the tentative budget and the reductions included.
“I know it’s not easy to reduce our expenditures by five percent, but I think it was something the board needed to do to stay solvent,” he said.
The tentative budget is expected to be put on display to the public in late August, with a public hearing and vote by the board scheduled for Monday, Sept. 24.