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Deficits eroding Sycamore School District 427 reserve funds

Published: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 11:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 12:18 a.m. CDT

SYCAMORE – Sycamore School District 427 leaders have begun planning for next year as they seek to reduce a continuing trend of multimillion-dollar budget deficits.

The district’s tentative budget for the upcoming school year includes a $2.7 million deficit in its education fund, along with a $3.2 million deficit in its capital project fund.

Although the district has been able to use reserves to cover previous deficits, they may be running out of cushion: The budget for the upcoming year shows the education fund with an ending balance of $1.3 million.

Nicole Stuckert, district director of financial services, said there is usually very little change between the tentative budget and the final budget, and the gap gives board members time to review the information. School board members are expected to vote on the final budget Aug. 26.

Superintendent Kathy Countryman said district revenues have changed over the years as funds from the state have wavered, because of declining grants. She said the tentative budget for this school year aligns with the district’s goals, such as moving forward with programs in the schools.

“The budget is a road map,” Countryman said. “We’ve said many times we can’t cut ourselves out of a deficit, as in programs and teachers, but we are mindful of that and it’s more of a revenue issue than expenditures.”

Of the educational-based revenues for this next school year, about 70 percent, or $23.7 million, will come from local sources – mainly property taxes. State sources account for another 25 percent at $8.3 million, and the federal government chips in the other $1.7 million.

This year, aid from the state is projected to increase by 2 percent, while federal aid will decrease by 2 percent, budget documents show. Overall, district officials expect to collect $33.7 million for their education fund in the upcoming school year, about $1.7 million more than last year.

The deficit in the district’s education fund is expected to shrink by about $1 million from last year.

School board members already have begun looking at a budget timeline for the next school year, and expect the timeline will play out much like this year’s, with a tentative budget ready in June 2015 and a final budget approved in August of that year.

While preparing the budget for the 2015-16 school year, board members will hear presentations from the schools’ project managers about projects and discuss priorities throughout the next year.

In October, the board will review projections from PMA Financial Network, a financial consultant, to determine the shape of revenues, expenses and savings in the budget.

In late winter and early spring of next year, priorities and revenues will be examined.

Board of education President Jim Dombek said the board wants to look at how it has handled the budget process in the past and see if there are even better ways to handle it in the future.

“Our focus is on students and student achievement,” Dombek said about the timeline for the budget proposal. “We want to do what’s best for student achievement.”

By the numbers

District 427’s tentative budget for the upcoming school year shows a $2.7 million deficit in its education fund and a $3.2 million deficit in its capital spending fund. The deficits will be covered with reserve funds.

If you goWhat: Board of education meetingWhen: 7 p.m. Aug. 26Where: Administration Building, 245 W. Exchange St.For more information: Copies of the tentative budget are available for review at the Administration Building and the Sycamore Public Library

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