• Board Faces Tough Budget Choices
    District 50

    It’s not a matter of “if” there will be budget cuts next year in District 50, but rather how much will be cut and where those cuts will take place. That was the consensus view from the Board of Education after Tuesday night’s study session that took a look at the 2014-15 budget situation.

    David Bell, the head of the District’s independent Financial Oversight Committee, told board members that last November’s failed mill levy override will have an impact. Voters rejected a request for an additional $5.25 million dollars a year which would have essentially maintained the status quo and kept the District from depleting its unallocated budget reserves. “We can’t continue to deficit spend,” he said. “The election has consequences and now we have to make choices.”

    The board was presented with four budget scenarios to consider. By law, the District is required to include a .9% increase in funding for PERA, but beyond that board members said, “Everything is on the table.”
    The four options:

    • Status Quo--- Essentially holding on to current budget with required PERA increase of .9%.
    • Minimum --$2.5 million in cuts with required PERA increase of .9%.
    • Mid-Range --$3.8 million in cuts with required PERA increase of .9%.
    • Maximum—5.2 million in cuts with required PERA increase of .9%.

    The Status Quo option was quickly rejected by all the board members because it would leave almost nothing in unallocated reserves. The Fiscal Oversight Committee sent board members a letter recommending the maximum level cuts of $5.2 million. During the meeting Bell told the board that while the committee’s formal recommendation is for maximum cuts, the board should allow for some flexibility because the state legislature is still working on the school finance act.

    Lawmakers are expected to increase education funding this year to keep up with inflation, but will not provide the significant increase in money that superintendents had lobbied for earlier in the year. Superintendent Pam Swanson joined other district leaders in asking lawmakers to take as much as $275 million from the State Education Fund and send the money back to local schools. It appears that number will now be closer to $100 million.

    Additional funds will likely be allocated to support specific education programs including English Language Learners (ELL) but Swanson warned that, “many of those dollars have strings attached and can only be viewed as one time money.”
    The District has already sought budget input from the District Advisory Accountability Committee (DAAC) and negotiations are currently underway with the Westminster Education Association (WEA). The budgeting process also encourages public comment.

    Under State law final budget must be approved by the Board of Education June 30.

    The Insider will keep you updated.

    Posted April 3, 2014