Cicero Trustees of Schools proposes 19% budget hike

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By DREW CARTER

A 19 percent overall expense hike in the proposed 2005-06 budget of the Cicero Township School Treasurer's Office concerned school officials attending the Trustees of Schools quarterly meeting Monday night.

"We're disappointed" that the budget was not reduced to levels below former Treasurer Gerald Sebesta's 2004 retirement, said Cheryl Witham, chief financial officer at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

"We hope we will still have some discussion," Witham said. She plans to report preliminary budget figures at the District 200 Finance Committee meeting Thursday morning.

The preliminary budget shows that total expenses would be roughly $76,000 lower than last year's budget. But that budget included $154,000 in retirement expenses paid to Sebesta.

Not counting those costs, expenses are charted to rise by $78,000, or 19 percent over last year's "recurring expenses" budget of $415,000.

The Trustees of Schools oversee some $400 million in tax proceeds from six school districts in Berwyn, Cicero and Oak Park and hold title to school properties. Oak Park schools, especially OPRF, have expressed the desire to get out of the arrangement, saying the office costs the districts money for services they provide themselves.

In 2003-04, Oak Park schools gave $120,000 to the Trustees of Schools. Oak Park Elementary School District 97 contributed $72,000, while OPRF contributed $48,000.

Other districts pay more for additional services the township office handles, such as payroll, which Oak Park districts handle on their own.

At the meeting, OPRF officials and incoming Trustee Bill Sullivan questioned the trustees and Treasurer Martin O'Connor on some of the proposed budget increases.

O'Connor said office insurance would increase from $500 to $2,700 because he could find only one insurer to make a bid on a policy. The "shot in the dark number" of $4,500 in new computer consultant fees comes after a virus infected the office's system, he said.

Legal expenses are expected to rise $4,000 to $9,000 annually due to efforts by Oak Park schools to get out of the arrangement, President Robert Burman said.

The preliminary budget also included a 4 percent raise in O'Connor's salary, from $98,000 to $102,000; a four-fold increase in office expenses from $5,500 to $21,000; and $2,500 in the recurring expense category for "Convention cost."

O'Connor explained that was a training session he hoped to send incoming Trustee Sullivan to in May. O'Connor said the event included a dinner and a golf game.

The board scheduled its next meeting for May 2 for the purpose of seating Sullivan and continuing to talk about the budget.
Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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