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Homewood schools $24.5 million budget adopted

The District 153 school board adopted a 2021-22 budget of $24.5 million at its Sept. 13 board meeting.

Due to expenses of $26.5 million, the budget shows a deficit of $2 million, according to John Gibson, the district’s chief school finance officer. The board is rectifying the deficit by using a portion of its $7.3 operating fund balance. The fiscal year 2022 budget covers July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022.

District 153 gets its funding from four sources – property taxes, state support, mandated categoricals and federal grants.

Gibson said the state will be providing $7.25 million through its evidence-based funding formula, showing an increase of about $568,000 over last year. It will receive $1.75 million through federal programs.

Property taxes should be up slightly at $12.83 million due to the South Suburbs reassessment, but Gibson said the latest tax collections are at 96%, rather than the traditional 98-99%.

Approximately 80 percent of the budget is for salaries and benefits for staffs at Willow, Churchill and James Hart Schools.

The budget also had expenses for a new math curriculum for all grade levels, and the district took on the expense due to COVID of providing each student with a laptop. The pandemic is also adding costs for additional cleaning and staffing. Gibson also reported an increase in tuition for students placed in special educational settings.

Federal funds help cover COVID costs

Superintendent Scott McAlister provided the board with information on the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) funds. The money was appropriated by Congress through the American Rescue Plan to help schools meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. District 153 has received three ESSR payments.

The first payment of $195,680 was spent on buying an additional 500 devices so each student would have a computer at home. It bought the licenses for software programs, and used a $139,574 digital equity grant for more than 300 iPads, WiFi contracts and laptops for teachers.

The second grant of $779,067 was directed at student learning loss due to remote learning. The district had a robust summer school program to help students prepare for the 2021-22 school year. The funding covered summer school salaries and supplies, free bus service for summer school students, the purchase of new laptops for 134 teachers, and a contract with a company providing online tutoring assistance as needed.

The district received $2,319,008 in the third ESSR grant, which included federal and state funding. The district has until 2023 to spend the money. McAlister said this funding is being designated for learning loss, after school programs and summer enrichment, but a portion of it can be spent on school buildings. The district has hired an architectural firm to come up with a plan on how to improve air quality in the schools that date to the 1950s and 1960s.

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