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District 161 budget shows slight increase from previous year

A new budget is in place but a debate about the next tax levy may just be starting in Flossmoor School District 161.
School board members Monday, Sept. 25, approved the district’s 2018 budget following a public hearing on the document. There was one dissenting vote on the budget, which could indicate more discussion will be forthcoming as the district begins its tax levy process.
The budget was approved in a 6-1 vote.
Board Member Merle Huckabee voted against the budget, stating “we can’t keep doing what we’re doing, we have some serious concerns.”
Huckabee said many residents have seen their equalized assessed valuations increase and would find it difficult to pay additional property taxes even if the district’s levy is increased by only about 2 percent. That is the approximate cost of living (CPI) index and it is the administration’s intention to increase the levy by that amount.
“People are getting it from all sides, state of Illinois income taxes, even the Cook County soda tax,” Huckabee said. “We can still have a world class education while we learn to do more with less.”
During the budget hearing two residents also expressed concern about rising property taxes in the district.
Frances LaBella, the district’s assistant superintendent of business operations, presented the final budget to the board. She said the expenditure of $2.04 million for a new roof at Parker Junior High School and other construction projects creates a deficit of $1.52 million. LaBella also explained that revenues are expected to increase by less than 1 percent and expenditures by only 0.15 percent, not including the construction projects.
The 2018 fiscal year (FY) budget started July 1, 2017. LaBella said the FY2018 revenues and expenditures are similar to the FY2017 budget.
Revenues of $33.66 million are only 0.71 percent higher than the previous year’s budget. Expenditures of $33.14 million are virtually unchanged, just $48,000 or 0.15 percent, more than in FY2017, not including the construction projects.
The new budget would result in an ending fund balance just shy of $30 million.
LaBella also explained even though the FY2018 budget anticipates a deficit, it’s actually “a road map” on spending for the coming year. She said there was an expected deficit in the FY2017 budget but at the end of the year the district had a surplus of $1.95 million.
LaBella said that could happen this year.
“Especially if it doesn’t snow much this winter,” she said, explaining that the mild winter earlier this year helped the district avoid large expenses for snow removal.
Meanwhile, the board will be discussing the 2017 property tax levy beginning at its meeting on Oct. 23 with final adoption scheduled for Dec. 26.
In other business, District 161 principals presented detailed School Improvement Plans for each of the five campuses.
Superintendent Dana Smith said, “What are the main indicators we want to measure?  We will have a number of discussions about this; this is one.”
Amabel Crawford, director of learning and instruction, said the plans were created after a two-day data retreat this summer with a focus on the “greatest area of needs at each school.” The plans also include recent MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) student growth summary reports, goals for reading and math and cultural and learning issues.
Generally, each school reported mixed reading and math data. Some grade levels have achieved near or above expected levels with other grades not faring as well.  There is a tendency at some schools for math performance to fall in the fifth grade.
Crawford said the district’s new math curriculum should help improve learning levels. Many of the principals said building the students’ vocabulary may be a key to improve reading progress.
Crawford added that the district will look at comparable national data to “have a checkpoint.”  
Board President Michelle Hoereth requested cumulative data that would chart student progress from first through eighth grade.
“There’s a narrative there,” Hoereth said.
Board member Cameron Nelson, who asked each principal about learning data at their school, said, “If we can’t make progress in this district, with all of this talent and resources, then where is it going to happen?”
The topic of bus transportation briefly reappeared at the board meeting.
Smith said he will soon provide the board with more information about a SafeStop app that could be used by parents to track their students’ bus rides each day. He said the app offers “30-second GPS updates” on bus locations. He added that the app would only cost the district $2,200 and would be free to parents. The technology could be implemented with Paige Bus Enterprises, the firm that provides transportation for District 161. Smith will recommend how a pilot of the app could be tested.
The board approved a donation of $400 from Homewood Disposal to be used for students’ school supplies.

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