The District 97 Board of Education will decide this month how much money it plans to ask from voters for its operating referendum in next spring’s election.

Members in June targeted April 2011 as its target date to seek a referendum. At its Sept. 28 regular meeting, administration urged the board to formally declare that next April 5, is indeed their date, as well as a dollar amount for the ballot measure.

“We not only need a decision in terms of whether or not we’re moving forward but also a sizing as quickly as possible,” Supt. Albert Roberts, told the board during a referendum planning discussion at last Tuesday’s meeting.

Last June the board reached unanimous consensus to seek a tax increase but have yet to make a formal board resolution. That’s expected to happen this fall as part of the board’s referendum campaign.

Last Tuesday, the board and administration went over that timeline. A seven to 10 question community survey is scheduled to be released by mid-October to gauge public interest about a referendum. Chris Jasculca, Dist. 97’s communication director, said the survey—which is still being developed by an administrative referendum planning committee— is meant to get the pulse of the community and not to politic or garner votes.

Two community forums are tentatively scheduled for the first week of November, Jasculca noting that the mid-term election is also happening that week. Roberts added that the board’s decision on a referendum size should occur before any community forums. A letter from Supt. Albert Roberts will also be sent to staff in the next couple of weeks to gauge their input about a referendum.

Along with announcing their spring 2011 target date, the board in June also heard from administration, which proposed $2.6 million in program and staffing cuts as a backup if a referendum were to fail. Those cuts have not been finalized and likely wouldn’t take effect until the 2011-2012 school year. The letter to staff will address that possibility, but also the prospects for the district if a referendum passes.

“One of the things we are asking people to do in that letter is to focus on their specific area of expertise,” Jasculca said. “One of the things Supt. Roberts has said is that if you are a middle school teacher, don’t tell us what we should be cutting in the elementary school. You need to focus your attention and your efforts on your buildings, your areas of expertise, and thinking of ways that we can either elevate it if it passes or streamline it if it fails.”

Roberts advised the board to keep its and the community’s focus on what a successful referendum will mean for the future of the district.

“I don’t think it can be about maintaining something; I think we can do better,” he said. “Secondly, I really believe that if a community has a vision that not only benefits its schools and its children—because they’re all our kids—but if it also speaks to a concept of strong schools lead to strong communities, better living conditions and property values, then that’s a message that we need to get to our community as well.”

The board’s regular meetings this month are on Oct. 12 and Oct. 26.

District 97 approves FY ’11 budget

The District 97 Board of Education last week approved its 2011 fiscal year budget, totaling about $80 million.

Revenues and expenditures are about even at roughly $80 million. The district’s education fund, however, which pays for day-to-day expenses such as salaries and benefits, projects a deficit of roughly $6 million, with about $51 million in revenues and roughly $57 million in expenditures.

To help fill the gap, the board also unanimously approved a bond issuance of $6.7 million for operations and capital projects. Late property taxes from Cook County, in part, necessitated the district having to borrow approximately $6.75 million for working cash funds purposes — roughly $2 million will be designated for capital projects and about $4.7 million for operating purposes.

Bonds were issued in September in order to receive the money in October, schools officials said, in anticipation of taxes arriving late from Cook County.

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