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State's shaky finances affecting District 158

HUNTLEY – Feeling the effects of election-year budget politics in Springfield, District 158 recently unveiled a tentative 2015 budget that shorts state funding in case the temporary income tax increase sunsets.

State lawmakers last month passed a 35.7 billion budget that ignored Gov. Pat Quinn's call to make the 2011 temporary income tax increase permanent and offset the revenue shortfall through one-time maneuvers. The state's budget included flat education funding from 2014 for all school districts.

But with Quinn in an election race with Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, many officials at Huntley District 158 believe lawmakers could resurrect the income tax issue after the November election or struggle to make payments if the increase expires.

The budget uncertainty has again forced school officials to budget state dollars conservatively months before district board members vote on a final spending plan in September, said Chief Financial Officer Mark Altmayer.

"For the last four or five years, we have not received a timely budget from the State of Illinois," Altmayer said. "Unfortunately, it's becoming a part of our budget process to wait for the state to finalize its budget numbers."

With conservative state estimates in place, the district last week unveiled an $88.04 million operating budget that includes a projected $149,370 surplus. If lawmakers ultimately kept the income tax increase and maintained flat education funding, District 158 would receive an additional $800,000.

Despite the financial unknowns at the state level, District 158 still has a "pretty solid" budget for 2015, primarily thanks to officials' conservative budgeting when the state didn't make certain payments on time, Altmayer said.

The new plan continues many initiatives already underway at District 158, including its tablet expansion and technological infrastructure upgrades.

It factors an inflationary property tax increase on the revenue side and annual salary increases for teachers and support staff on the expenditure side.

Going forward, school officials will monitor the state's financial situation and make the necessary changes to their own finances before or after board members vote in September, Altmayer said.

"We still have a strong budget and are able to do the things that we want to do," he said.

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