District 15 school board passes balanced budget

Spending expected to drop $8.8M this year

McHENRY – With no big projects in the works, no capital improvements scheduled and a standing contract with the teachers union, District 15’s overall budget is significantly smaller than last year.

The District 15 school board passed a balanced budget at its meeting Tuesday evening.

The district expects to spend $57.3 million over its nine funds, about $8.8 million less than it budgeted for last year.

The vast majority of that drop is because the district has no capital improvement projects planned for the year, said school board Vice President Patrick Miller, who also serves as the Finance Committee’s chairman.

The education fund, from which the district pays most of its expenses, remains nearly level with last year, slightly increasing to $43.8 million.

The district is in the second year of a five-year contract with its teachers union, which includes a 1 percent increase in the base salary each year as well as an annual 2 percent increase in compensation for extra-duty stipends starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The base salary for the 2013-14 school year is $36,673.

Part of the salary increase covers the extra time teachers now have to spend at school for staff development, Miller said.

Each Wednesday, teachers, grouped by department or grade level, delve into areas such as technology and curriculum, Superintendent Alan Hoffman said.

The budget also factors in a half-percent increase in pension costs, in case the state ends up shifting some of its pension obligations onto local districts as some lawmakers have proposed, Miller said.

While the budget for the education fund did not project a surplus last year, this year it expects to see a surplus of just under $810,000.

The growth in revenue that led to the surplus comes primarily from local property taxes.

The district approved a balloon levy last year, meaning that it captured all of the increase allowed under the state’s tax cap as well as any new growth.

The Finance Committee will discuss using that surplus to pay off part of its debt and then refinancing the remainder at its next meeting, Miller said. The move would save the district about $363,000.

The district had about $38 million, or the equivalent of 289 days of cash on hand, in the bank, according to a 2012 financial report. In ranking the financial health of districts, the state sets 180 days as the minimum to receive its top score.

The reserves are earmarked for retiring the district’s aging mobile classrooms, making improvements to some of its older buildings or possibly expanding one of its buildings, Miller said.

The board has been waiting to use the money until the state decides what its going to do in terms of its massive unfunded pension liability, he said.

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