Line item by line item, Dist. 97 whittles $500M from budget

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LISA BROWN


Shaving off costs from administrative printing to reducing the technology budget, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 cut $500,938 from its current budget to lessen the amount the district will use from its reserve funds.

This fall, board members directed the administration to cut corners in the budget that passed only with a $7.5 million dollop of funding from cash reserves.
Administrative staff has spent the past two months poring over the budget, looking for ways to trim $500,000 as directed by the board.

Most of the cuts reduced line items by as little as 10 percent though there were reductions as high as a third in discretionary line items.

"Nothing in here affects any of the contracts," said Superintendent John Fagan. The district is currently in negotiations over its teacher aide's contracts, and full-time teachers' contracts are up for renegotiation.  

"It's a distribution so no one place is hit any more than any other place. They'll be pinched but it's not like they'll be broken," said Fagan.

District 97 Business Director Peggy Wilson said the entire administrative staff worked on making cuts. "The process was a good process. It definitely is an administrative recommended list, one we can live with," she said.

One item taken out of the budget was funding for a marketing proposal that would have cost $10,000 just to devise a plan. A marketing push was one of many recommendations a Diversity Task Force made last year to market the district's accomplishments and successes in order to maintain a diverse racial makeup throughout the district's 10 schools. 
But some board and community members have said the cost is too high when the district is tightening its spending. "Why spend $10,000 to find out we can't spend $100,000," Wilson said when presenting the cuts at last Wednesday's board meeting. 
Other cuts include decreasing per pupil allocations at each of the schools by 10 percent, lowering the budget to $496,800 and saving the district $55,200.
"These are not symbolic cuts. It's much more than symbolic in terms of what we're trying to do," said board member Bob Walsh.
 The school painting budget, library book budgets, business office supply, and board of education printing budgets were each cut by 10 percent, saving a total of $26,582.
 "I know it's not easy, that it's painful. It's not easy for us to look at this," said board member Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, who initiated the cuts at the board level.
Board vice president Adekunle Onayemi applauded the district for its proactive cost cutting. "It's yielded a lot of benefits already," he said, pointing to the district's ability to issue $3.5 million in bonds last week at a competitive rate. 
Wilson said the district was able to secure a high bond rating partly due to its pledge to cut costs and the formation of the Finance Task Force. "We would be talking about different numbers. We'd be buying bond insurance," Wilson said.
The cost cuts are only the first of several steps the district is taking this school year to stave off further spending of reserves. In addition to the formation of the Finance Task Force, board member Dorothy Reid suggested board members should direct the administration to make no increases in discretionary spending -which does not include salaries - when forming next year's budget. "So the message is clear that there is no room to grow," said Reid. The board is expected to vote on the measure at its Nov. 6 meeting. "Our approach is to look for every possible reduction," said Fagan.

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