External forces have put Homewood District 153 finances in the red, but a 2011 $7.5 million referendum has helped the district cover costs for its excellent academic programs, according to Steve Anderson, chair of the school board’s Finance Committee.
Now that money is running low, and the school board and administrators are trying to determine next steps.
The district has scheduled 7 p.m. meetings Oct. 28 and Nov. 9 at the James Hart Junior High cafetorium, 183rd Street and Morgan Avenue, to present the current District 153 picture and ask for input on what the district can and should be doing to maintain its schools.
The school board knew funding from the state wasn’t keeping pace. It asked for help, and 80 percent of the district’s residents approved a referendum in 2011 that enabled the district to sell $7.5 million in bonds. The money helps the district balance the budget while maintaining its strong curriculum.
The district this year dipped into the fund to cover a $2.5 million budget deficit. What’s left in the fund should help cover bills through the 2016-17 budget year.
“Through community support we’ve always had the funds set aside to address (the deficit), so that’s doing the best we can fiscally in the realities of today,” said Anderson.
The school board has met with financial advisors and been brainstorming with administrators. The board is looking to the community because “obviously they have a vested interest in our schools,” he noted.
“We’ve really done what we told the community we would (when the referendum passed) and then some,” Anderson said. “We’re hopeful that when we put the story out there again that that resonates with them; that they’ll support what we ask them to support. I don’t know what that is yet, but we’re working on it.”
The financial woes were set upon the district. The 2008 recession caused property values in Homewood to slide resulting in a drop in tax revenues. The district gets about 63 percent of its funding from local property taxes
Property tax increases are also limited because of tax caps the state imposed in 1995. Property taxes only go up to meet the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 5 percent — whichever is less. This year that means tax revenues are only going up 1.5 percent to meet CPI.
The State of Illinois has reduced its state aid the past five years. The state agrees to pay $6,119 in general state aid for the education of each child in Illinois. That is called the foundation level. That number has not risen since 2009-10. That freeze is the first step in the state reducing aid. The second is reducing the state’s share of general state aid support.
Since 2010, District 153 has lost approximately $2 million in general state aid, and another $400,000 in categorical funding, including a 41 percent drop in transportation reimbursements, according to John Gibson, chief school business official.
“We’re ready for the challenge and every one of us is excited about going and talking about our school district, truly because it’s an exciting story and we’ve lived it,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to ferret out every revenue opportunity within our means.”