At a time when school districts across Illinois are struggling financially and academically, River Forest residents are rightly interested in how District 90 uses taxpayer resources. The district has a long-standing commitment to sound fiscal stewardship, transparency, and academic excellence. Because of this, D90 has built notable financial reserves that serve two crucial purposes:
First, it ensures the fiscal capacity to continue providing students with an excellent education — despite a decade-long trend of decreased funding from the state.
Second, it shields taxpayers from highly fluctuating tax rates and the long-term financial stresses facing D90, which are partly driven by the state’s decision to shift educational pension costs to the district.
D90’s foresight in creating these reserves is already benefiting our taxpayers and students. Other districts may have to cover the new pension costs by reducing classroom investments or raising local property taxes. D90 does not face this predicament due to our intentional use of long-range financial projections as a tool to manage operations.
In fact, sound fiscal management has enabled the district to avoid going to referendum to ask for an increase in the Education Tax Fund since March 2006, when voters overwhelmingly approved the tax increase. During the 12 years that have followed, the school board has taken every opportunity to minimize taxpayer costs while maintaining the capacity to provide an excellent education to students. For example, the board approved a smaller-than-authorized tax levy in 2008, and then actually cut the tax levy in 2012. Both actions provided tax relief to residents. Starting next year, the district’s long-range projections show that our educational costs will exceed total revenue. Still, D90 does not plan to seek a referendum in the foreseeable future, nor disinvest in our children’s education, because of the reserve prudently established to cover this predicted exigency.
Further proof of the district’s sound fiscal management includes our faculty contracts. In 2011, the district and the River Forest Education Association (RFEA) agreed for the first time to tie teacher compensation directly to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) while introducing a tiered health insurance structure that significantly reduced costs. The most recent three-year contract in 2017 continues to link salary increases to the CPI while providing cost-competitive health insurance that nonetheless delivers a high-quality benefit to teachers. This contract enables the district to attract and retain the high-caliber faculty that is the bedrock of our academic excellence.
D90’s responsible fiscal stewardship has been recognized by independent third parties. In 2017 Moody’s Investor Services upgraded the district’s bond rating from Aa2 to Aa1. This high credit rating is the result of several factors, including the district’s strong financial operations, reserves, and healthy cash position.
Under current education funding dynamics, River Forest taxpayers continue to invest heavily in the district by providing more than 90 percent of our revenue. This enables D90 to provide an award-winning education to students, which is a crucial factor for many homebuyers in our village. Local taxpayer support powers the district’s tradition of excellence, which is at the heart of our mission: to inspire a love of learning and ensure educational excellence for every child.
To learn more, we encourage you to view the financial information on our website (district90.org/about/finances), particularly the Resident Friendly Financial Report (2008-2017).
Ralph Martire is president of the board of education and Dr. Ed Condon is superintendent of River Forest School District 90.