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D161 facing $1.66 million deficit in tentative FY2022 budget

An early look at Flossmoor School District 161’s tentative 2021-2022 budget indicates a $1.66 million deficit is possible.

Total revenues in the tentative budget presented to the board on Tuesday, May 25, are projected to be $35.23 million, compared to $36.89 million in expenditures. Associate Superintendent Frances LaBella noted all numbers at this point are “extremely rough,” as they were based on estimates rather than line-by-line details.

“It’s a tentative budget,” LaBella said. “I’m going to close that as much as possible.”

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LaBella noted the deficit is “almost entirely,” or roughly $1.5 million, from the operations and maintenance fund because the property tax levy cannot support the costs of maintaining facilities with the way it is capped. The district will need to find other ways to fund that work going forward, she said.

“This is not uncommon,” LaBella said. “I don’t think any school district can fund operations and maintenance based on the … levy for operations and maintenance.”

LaBella said there are some positives, including the fact that the current fiscal year’s property tax revenues are at $21.42 million to date, up $221,234 from what was budgeted.

“I was very happy when I saw property taxes come in this month,” she said, noting 92-93% collections seem to be stable. The tentative budget is built on the revenue assumptions of a 93% property tax collection rate, as well as flat state and federal funding. State revenues are also at $9.17 million to date, compared with $10.08 million budgeted for FY21. But with payments expected in May and June, LaBella said that should bring the year-end total to “at least” $10.60 million.

“We are looking at a positive number to budget on the state revenue side,” LaBella said. “We will do better than budget on the revenues side.”

Salaries for FY21 are expected to be favorable compared to the district’s budget at roughly $600,000 less than what was expected because of unused extra stipends and substitutes. Benefits also are expected to be favorable by roughly $100,000, according to LaBella’s report. 

Contractual services are projected to be roughly $1 million under budget, largely because of buses and other items that did not require as much in expenditures this school year. Supplies may be $600,000 under budget, while non-capital equipment is expected to be $400,000 under budget.

In total, District 161 is in a position where it may do roughly $3 million better than planned in FY21.

The presentation shows a downward trend in fund balance projected through FY26 numbers, but Superintendent Dana Smith emphasized that it is “purposeful,” while acknowledging there will be a need to flatten that decline going forward.

“We do have a declining fund balance, and that is on purpose,” he said. “The board made decisions to start spending down fund balance. … We wanted to apply it effectively towards schooling.”

LaBella noted by the end of FY26, the plan will still leave District 161 a few months ahead of the several months’ worth of fund balance the board likes to keep.

“We are seeing declining balances, but you don’t see any dramatic drops down,” LaBella said.

LaBella noted she wanted to focus on the operating budget in her presentation, so Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money, provided through the federal CARES Act relief legislation, was not included in the trends because that money disappears in three years.

She requested the school board approve the tentative budget at its June 14 meeting, primarily so that expenses such as salaries can be paid starting July 1. The board is expected to get a more detailed budget document by July 19, with a presentation slated for Aug. 30 and final approval on Sept. 13.

The district’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 of the following year.

Going to take more than a coat of new pavement

LaBella noted a previously approved plan to sealcoat a pathway around Flossmoor Hills Elementary School is likely to be changed because the damage is worse than originally thought.

“It was throwing good money after bad just to sealcoat that,” she said. “It has really deteriorated.”

LaBella said the new plan is to replace the asphalt of the entire walkway instead. LaBella said there will be a bid process, with results expected to be presented to the board on June 28.

“We’re hoping to have it done before school starts, but it really depends on when the bids come in and what the availability of contractors is.”

LaBella also noted in a construction update that the district’s ongoing issues with the installation of unit ventilators are almost resolved. The last mechanical part was installed May 21, and the architects were doing final walkthroughs as of the meeting.

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