School board, administrators talk, debate budget : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|School board, administrators talk, debate budget|
|Tentative budget shows surplus; hearing, final board vote expected Sept. 23|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Following a nearly three hour discussion last week, Oswego School District Board members voted unanimously to put a new tentative budget on public display.
The proposed budget anticipates revenues and sets expenditures for the fiscal year that began July 1 and will end next June 30.
The public has three options for inspecting the budget. It will be placed on the school district's website at oswego308.org, available at the school district's administration center at 4175 Ill. Route 71, Oswego, and at the Oswego Public Library District's Oswego Campus Library on Jefferson Street at Main Street in downtown Oswego.
The board is expected to adopt the budget after conducting a public hearing as part of a meeting set for Monday, Sept. 23 at Oswego East High School.
Dr. Paul O'Malley, assistant superintendent for finance, presented three budget scenarios to the board to consider during last week's meeting.
O'Malley said the only tax increase under the budget scenario selected by the board would come from revenue on newly developed properties that have been added to the tax roles.
O'Malley said he worked with principals of each school to get their costs down as much as possible before preparing the budget scenarios.
He also noted that when the administration was hired a year ago, the district showed a $7 million budget deficit. He said they reduced the deficit to $5.6 million but the board still objected, so they cut it to $2.6 million.
Finally in June of this year, they managed to reduce the deficit to zero, balancing the present budget with a slight surplus, O'Malley said.
O'Malley noted the district could save money in the short-term by restructuring its general obligation bond debt. He explained that if they extend the length of time it would take to pay off the bonds and interest, the cost to taxpayers would be lower for several years. However, in the end, taxpayers would pay more, because they would be making bond and interest payments for a longer period of time, he said.
Board member Greg O'Neil said he had heard from many homeowners whose taxes increased by several hundred dollars and even more than $1,000.
"I'm in the same situation myself. I find that unacceptable and I am determined to stop that. I don't care what it takes and what has to be cut, that's what has to happen. If these budgets are going to include tax increases like we've seen in the last three years, they're a no-go. There's going to have to be a Version D (of the budget)," he said.
'No sacred cows'
O'Neil said there should be no sacred cows.
"We're the highest tax area in the United States. It's ridiculous. This lady said she's under water and can't leave her home," he said, referring to a district resident who addressed he board earlier in the meeting. "So am I and I'm sick of it," he said.
Board President Bill Walsh said the district has facilities that will have to be looked at in regard to providing more classroom space and school boundaries will have to be reviewed.
While talking about student needs, O'Neil said the needs should be about the same for every new class as they are for existing classes, but Wendt disagreed.
Wendt said that when comparing this year's graduating seniors and the incoming kindergarten students, the needs are different.
"We are darker skinned, we are poorer, and we have more second language students. I showed this board six months ago the difference in free and reduced (meals). There was a time when these buildings were built 10 years ago and taxes were much lower, that our free and reduced (meal) population was 10-12 percent district-wide.
"At the time home values were decreasing and our taxes were increasing and our free and reduced population doubled," he said.
Wendt noted that a student who receives regular meals and one on free and reduced program do not have the same needs. It costs more money to educate a child who is living in poverty, he said.
He said these discussions would not be taking place if the district was not spending 25 percent of its income on buildings. And if the state had funded the district as it is supposed to, the district would have an additional $11 million in its budget.
Wendt said times were different when the district issued bonds years ago, and said the board needs to have a conversation about what restructuring (refinancing) the bonds would do to help resolve the present budget problems.
O'Neil said that according to their budget and enrollment figures, they should have $25,000 to spend on every student, but Wendt noted that they are spending $50,000 this year on one special needs student and said the district has no control over these costs.
"There are many of these students that cost us more than $25,000 each and you and I have nothing to say about it," Wendt added.
Maureen Lemon, board attorney, said that while the number of special needs students may not be increasing, the types of disabilities are changing.
"There's more health issues, there's more medical issues, there's more nursing requirements, and the types of programs are more expensive than they were four years ago," she said.