U46 OKs balanced budget — with dissent
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org @emmillerwrites September 23, 2013 9:48PM
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:17AM
ELGIN — The School District U46 Board of Education approved an ultimately balanced budget for fiscal year 2014 at a special school board meeting Monday, but not without opposition from two board members.
Total revenues in the approved budget’s operating funds, or general fund, come to $447 million and total expenditures to $452 million. That number is considered balanced because the district received a surplus last year that it planned to spend this year on capital projects.
Board members Frank Napolitano and Veronica Noland, seated in the spring school board elections, both voted “no” on the proposed budget.
The vote followed a public hearing the week before, during which eight district residents shared concerns about property taxes.
Again, during public comments Monday, Elgin resident Cody Holt told the school board, “If you say no (to this budget), you say yes to fiscal responsibility.”
“Those of you up for re-election in two years should realize voters are sick and tired of rampant taxation.”
But board member Traci O’Neal Ellis said before the vote, “This is not a levy discussion. This is a budget discussion. ... Regardless of a vote tonight, it does not impact a property owner’s tax bill.”
The discussion about the Elgin school district’s tax levy for the year will start next month, said Dale Burnidge, director of financial operations.
“That discussion really is what would affect property taxes,” he said.
The majority of spending outlined in the budget is paid for through local property taxes.
Napolitano said he had voted against the budget because he didn’t think the increase in expenditures — about $33 million over last year, he said — was justified.
Noland said she, too, had questions about that increase that hadn’t been answered, such as how those dollar numbers related to the numbers of students and teachers in the classroom.
She also said she “rejects the notion that we’ve been given the budget many, many times.”
District officials first brought a tentative budget to the school board in late April, then again Aug. 19, Sept. 16 and Monday.
The vote came after Superintendent Jose Torres had warned, “A vote no to this budget is saying, ‘Let’s close the doors,’ because we don’t have a budget.”
According to the new 2014 budget, which is retroactive to July, U46 will receive a larger allocation of general state aid this year because of an increase in students considered low-income and a decrease in property values, district officials have said. GSA will jump from $62.2 million to $86 million.
And for the first time in several years, the district is planning on receiving all four categorical payments it has been promised by the state of Illinois.
Still, the amount it expects to receive for categoricals such as transportation will decrease. So will federal funding, with the federal sequester taking effect in January. U46 will receive $32.4 million, about $1 million (or 3 percent) less than last year, officials have said.
Meantime, expenditures on salaries and benefits are up. The district hired 62 new full-time positions, totaling $4 million, officials have said. Contractual increases for teachers and support staff, as well as merit increases for administrators, come to $7 million; Teachers Retirement System costs have increased by $2 million; and health insurance, $6 million.