CRYSTAL LAKE – In a break from tradition, Community High School District 155 approved its 2014-15 budget Tuesday, well ahead of the fall timetable it has followed in the past.
The budget is the first one in three years projected to end with an operational surplus, though the overall budget will still end in a deficit because of debt service and capital fund payments. The $123.2 million budget is a roughly $5.4 million increase over last year.
Property tax revenue is expected to increase from $71.3 million to $72.7 million.
Operational funds – which include education, operations and maintenance, transportation, retirement benefits and working cash – are projected to end with a $98,527 surplus mostly thanks to a $2.2 million surplus in the education fund that offsets deficits in the others.
Some of the surplus is because of only a slight bump in salary and benefit costs to teachers under the new contract. Salaries and benefits increased from $69.1 million last year to $70.2 in 2014-15, with benefits being reduced by $870,425. Instructional costs also were reduced from $54.7 million to $52.8 million.
“This could not have been done without the hard work and sacrifices of staff, who through negotiations helped reduce the district’s overall salaries and benefits costs and balance the budget in [fiscal] ’15,” wrote assistant superintendent of finance T. Ferrier in a budget summary to the board.
The two funds not included in operational costs – debt service and capital projects – still caused an overall deficit, dropping the fund balance from $70.2 million to $65.2 million. The reserves are still well above actuary-suggested ranges.
The district has a number of large capital projects planned, including a $1.2 million roof replacement project at Prairie Ridge High School that was also approved Tuesday.
District 155 spokesman Jeff Puma said completing the budget process now instead of in the fall gives community members and staff a clear picture of where the district is headed.
“The effect is greater transparency both to the community and internally to those employees with budget responsibilities,” Puma said. “By having a budget in place at the start of the school year, our employees will have a better grasp on the available funds and will be able to allocate them more responsibly throughout the fiscal year.”
The meeting ended with board member Jim Nelson giving a passionate defense of the board in light of an open meetings violation complaint filed by the teachers’ union to the Illinois Attorney General.
The union’s complaint said the board did not properly indicate it would discuss and later approve administrative raises at a February meeting. The board did not approve any financial commitment, but stated an intent to give raises that would need to be approved once financial terms were offered.
Nelson said in his decade with the board, the integrity has never wavered and the focus has always been giving the most challenging and rewarding experience to students in a fiscally responsible manner. He said he was disappointed with the communication and did not appreciate his or the board’s integrity being challenged publicly.
Union president Justin Hubly agreed he could have communicated with the board more before filing the complaint and apologized for not reaching out more. But he said even without intent, he believes the board violated the act. The matter is still pending.
“I do not think there was any malicious intent on the board’s behalf,” Hubly said. “But they have to follow the open meetings act of the law. It just sounds like a mistake was made.”