Debt payment pushes Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47's operating budget into red

CRYSTAL LAKE – Uncertainties at the state level have Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 planning conservatively for the coming school year, a spokeswoman said.

The tentative budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 was posted this week ahead of a September vote by the school board.

It projects a $510,250 surplus across the district's five operating funds after $83 million in expenses but before a $1.2 million transfer from the education fund to cover the district's debt payments.

Last year's budget expected being able to handle the transfer without dipping into reserves, but with expenses growing faster than revenues, that isn't expected this year, documents show. The district would still have $27 million in its operating funds, or about 118 days of cash on hand.

The document is still being reviewed by the district's new financial officer, Cathy Nelson, especially taking into consideration the revenue streams that are coming into focus.

"A budget is a point in time," Nelson said, adding that the document will evolve as news comes in from the state, student registration continues, changes in staffing occur and contracts are negotiated with the transportation and non-certified staff unions.

The district had originally projected general state aid to drop by 5 percent this year over last year, but that's a number Nelson is looking at again in light of Gov. Bruce Rauner signing House Bill 3763 into law, which allocates an additional $244 million for education statewide.

But there are still a lot of uncertainties hovering over the district, in particular a proposed property tax freeze, potential pension cost shifts and continuing uncertainties around the budget, most of which is still unresolved, Nelson said.

"We sit and we watch everyday to see what might be changing," she said.

Nelson is also watching what happens with staffing, particularly in hard-to-fill specialties like speech pathology or occupational and physical therapy. If the district can't fill a position or if someone goes on maternity leave, that could mean the district has to contract out those services.

To control costs, the district has taken a look at its supplies and materials budget, nearly halving it for general classroom programs in the tentative budget.

Supplies are an area where districts have some control, as most of the budget goes to contract-dictated salaries and benefits, Nelson said, adding that the district always tries to balance its finances with meeting the needs of students.

The district has allocated some additional money this year for assistive technology like iPads for special education students, she said.

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