SYCAMORE – Sycamore School District 427 Board members approved a resolution for a balanced fiscal 2019 budget that did not require a deficit reduction plan for the first time in years.
The board voted, 7-0, to establish a hearing date for the tentative budget as it was presented during its regular meeting Tuesday at Sycamore Middle School.
Nicole Stuckert, chief financial officer for District 427, had said it’s the first time in at least a decade the district hasn’t had to do deficit reductions to its budget. She said the district began a three-year deficit reduction plan in fiscal 2016 to help reduce expenses by about $6 million to get to its balanced budget passed last fiscal year.
Stuckert said the district still has some work to do to reach its budget goals. In order for the district to get rid of its debt, she said, it will want to have 25 percent of the total operational fund balance in reserves, in case the district loses funding or ends up with a large unanticipated expense. Currently, the district is putting 17 percent into reserves, she said.
“We are very far away from that right now,” Stuckert said.
Board President Jim Dombek said some of the main reasons why the district was hemorrhaging money for a while were the decline in the equalized assessed property tax values and the housing decline in 2008. The spending problem worsened when the district was not receiving money from the state as fast as it would’ve liked and, eventually, the district realized it couldn’t afford to continue deficit spending while state funding remained uncertain, Dombek said.
“So it was quite a crisis,” Dombek said.
Stuckert had said state and federal revenues have pretty much remained flat. She said the district might get a little more money with the evidence-based funding model Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in 2017, through which the state sends more resources to districts with under-resourced students.
District 427 was initially projected to receive additional revenue from the state’s new tier system that will go into the general fund, but Stuckert had said the added help won’t be enough to amend the fiscal 2019 budget at this point.
“We have not seen final numbers on that on what each district is getting,” Stuckert said. “Tentatively, we are to get between $250,000 and $300,000.”
Stuckert had said district expenses have remained flat year-over-year otherwise, with the exception of teacher pay raises coming from the new contract that District 427 and its teachers union passed last month.
Superintendent Kathy Countryman said she knows a lot of hard work went into making a balanced budget possible by the board and the teachers that had to make sacrifices. She said the district will continue to maintain a conservative budget in order to hit its financial goals.
“Getting to this place was difficult, but we know that is something that needed to be done for the district,” Countryman said.
The public hearing for District 427’s fiscal 2019 budget is set for Sept. 25.