D97 mulls spending freeze ahead of vote on new budget

Despite pandemic, district anticipates budget surplus

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

On Aug. 11, the District 97 school board will review its preliminary FY 2021 budget — the first budget it will vote on since COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

The preliminary budget tentatively includes $104.2 million in total spending outside of capital projects — a 3 percent increase over FY 2020's roughly $101 million total. In addition, the district is proposing $31.3 million in capital spending. 

Total revenue in the preliminary budget totals $107.3 million, which leaves the district with a possible surplus. 

During a regular meeting on July 14, Robbi Grossi, the district's financial consultant, said the administration intends to recommend that the board freeze overall discretionary spending. 

"What we intended on spending in FY 2020 and what we would have spent in FY 2020 had we run a full year, we're recommending freezing discretionary spending at those levels," said Grossi, who has called for the district to take a conservative approach to spending since at least May, when he made a presentation on the potential impact of COVID-19 on the district's finances. 

During a presentation at the board's May 26 regular meeting, Grossi listed examples of expenditures that the district could "pause." They included non-essential staff positions, long-term commitments like collective bargaining agreements and major capital projects. 

During the July 14 meeting, Grossi outlined 10 "major financial decisions" that the board is expected to make over the next 24 months, starting with the adoption of the FY 2021 budget, which the board is expected to approve at a meeting on Sept. 22. 

Other major decisions include the approval of the 2020 tax levy in December, the development of staffing plans for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, the identification of summer capital projects for 2021 and 2022, the adoption of the FY 2022 budget in September 2021, and the negotiation of a new teacher contract in early 2022. 

"All these decisions are interconnected," he said. 

The district saved approximately $1 million as a result of closing in March, April, May and June, Grossi noted. The district is poised to receive $320,000 in federal COVID-19 aid, which the administration will spend on technology, he added. Other state and federal revenues, however, will remain relatively flat. 

The district will experience dramatically decreased tax revenue due to the elimination of TIF surplus payments, he explained, adding that the district's interest earnings on its investments will also decline dramatically.

Still, overall revenues are estimated to increase by $1.2 million in FY 2020. Much of the increase, he said, has to do with the timing of tax payments. 

The preliminary budget for FY 2021 was presented before the district reversed its initial decision to open the fall based on a hybrid model, which entailed students being in classrooms twice a week. That model had the district paying at least $330,000 to purchase personal protective equipment and disinfecting materials. There would also be unforeseen transportation costs associated with the measure. 

Since then, however, the district has switched to a full remote learning plan, which could lower spending totals in the final FY 2021 budget.

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 7th, 2020 8:04 AM

How many of the admins are now non-essential staff? They can't even figure out stuff like budgets without hiring a consultant. And somehow the 3% a year tax increase is baked in, no matter what, every time.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 6th, 2020 6:54 PM

Why does D97 pay a consultant to develop its budget when it has a well-compensated Chief School Business Officer? That involves putting the District's own assumptions into an Excel model. Or can't they develop the assumptions and build the spreadsheet? He's borrowing their wristwatch to tell them what time it is and then keeping the watch. It's a Rolex. Why do they leave unquestioned the statement that their revenue will suffer from lost TIF side payments when they now can tax directly against those old TIF assets (the TIF Money Grab of last December)? Why does D200 use the same consultant who moonlights from his duties as School Treasurer of Bloom Township (being paid a bit under $300, 000 there) and where his business does not even have a website? They will say it's because of his knowledge of what's going on in the Legislature, but that information can be be obtained from the various newsletters to which both Districts subscribe (IASB, IASBO, etc.) Why does D200 spend roughly $20,000 on Forecast Five to run an Excel model a few times a year, which they should be able to create? The Boards and the Administrations have surrendered their fundamental duties to others. Their answer will probably be (if they give one): "We'll appoint a Citizens Committee to issue a White Paper.".When in doubt, mumble,

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