Education, Local News

D161 appoints Agbarah to fill vacant position

The District 161 board of education has chosen Liz Agbarah to fill the vacant seat left by the departure of Misha Blackman.

The decision was finalized during a special meeting held on Aug. 28. All six board members were present during the proceedings. Agbarah’s appointment was approved 5 – 1, with board member David Linear casting the dissenting vote.

Liz Agbarah

Agbarah, a Flossmoor resident, grew up in Park Forest. Her family has lived in Flossmoor for the past 13 years.  She currently works as a development director for nonprofit agencies. After many years working in the medical field, Agbarah was at South Suburban PADS before starting her own nonprofit, the Community Expert Organizers Group.

“She is an active community member who brings with her years of experience in grant writing and community engagement. We look forward to collaborating with her as we continue to focus on the amazing work of the district,” said Carolyn Griggs, board president.

Agbarah said she is excited to serve on the board and hopes that this position will allow her to engage community members.

 “I want to get our small businesses and our local businesses involved,” Agbarah said. “I want to include community members that don’t have children in our schools. A large part of all of our property taxes come to the district. They should really have a vested interest here.”

Agbarah also said that she would look for opportunities to do more outreach. She said her roles involving social services have led to a passion for helping the more vulnerable members of the community.

“I am thrilled that Ms. Agbarah will be joining the District 161 Board of Education because of her strong experiences and her commitment to our community,” said Superintendent Dana Smith. “She is a champion of our students and families and I know that she will represent the community with professionalism and with a focus on improving the quality of our school district.”

Agbarah will serve on the board until the next consolidated general election scheduled for April 1, 2025.

District 161 budget shortfall
The 2023-24 budget will be one of the first actions that the board votes on with Agbarah as a member. Associate Superintendent Frances LaBella presented the new plan to the board at the Aug. 28 meeting. 

The budget projects a shortfall of around $2.7 million. Approximately $1.6 million of the deficit comes from the operating fund. Construction costs made up the additional $1 million deficit.

LaBella stressed that the budget she presented was “conservative.” The figures represent the budget if the district were fully staffed. There are multiple open positions that the district is still trying to fill. LaBella said that a projected $500,000 surplus in the 2022-23 budget ended up being a surplus of around $3 million in the operating fund because some open positions were not filled.

Any budget deficits will be covered by the district’s reserve fund. The balance of the fund also will cover construction projects the district has planned. At its current level, the district’s reserve fund has an estimated balance of $37 million. That is well beyond the goals that the board had previously set. LaBella said that she does not expect this year’s budget deficit to result in a tax increase for residents.

The board will vote to approve the new budget after a public hearing on Sept. 11. 

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