Schools will have to make tough decisions over the next several months to cope with less money from the state.
The state of Illinois owes metro-east school districts anywhere from $130,000 to $2.5 million in delayed payments for transportation, special education, early childhood and driver education, among other areas.
In addition to waiting on payments, school districts are being shortchanged the money they are owed from the state. For the last two years, the state has prorated the amount of money each district is supposed to receive per student.
Last year, the schools received 5 percent less than the mandated formula requires. This year, it's 11 percent less. For some districts, that's more than $5 million lost this year on top of other cuts.
State legislators have not yet determined at what level school districts will be funded at for fiscal year 2014.
"I keep telling (the transportation director), if we can't buy textbooks, how can we buy buses?" said Ken Miller, finance director at Triad District 2. "Our whole process has been to do everything we can possibly do to cut expenses because we know what a hard sell (a tax increase) is. But we can't cut forever."
As a result of the state's funding shortfall, two St. Clair County school districts -- Grant School District 110 and O'Fallon District 90 -- are asking voters to approve a tax increase via a referendum on the April 9 ballot. Granite City District 9 is considering closing an elementary school, and Collinsville considered doing the same until massive public protests led them to mothball the idea.
Cahokia Unit School District 187 is currently hosting public meetings to inform parents about what cuts will need to be made if the state continues to decrease funding for school districts.
Superintendent Art Ryan said the district may have to layoff teachers, eliminate all extracurricular activities including high school sports, cut art, music and physical education classes at the elementary schools and close a school building and consolidate students.
Parents of students at Cahokia schools who want to find out more about these potential cuts can attend a community meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Cahokia School of Choice, 1820 Jerome Lane; or meetings next week at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Maplewood, 600 Jerome Lane; and at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7 at Oliver Parks Elementary, 1900 Mousetta Lane.
Other districts in St. Clair and Madison counties are developing their own contingency plans as they craft a budget for fiscal year 2014, even as they wait any notice of how much money they can expect to receive.
Belleville District 201
Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the district has had to "cut a lot over the last several years" as a result of the state's shortfall.
Currently, the state owes the district just over $2.5 million. "We don't expect to get all of what we were supposed to get this year," Dosier said in regards to state funding.
However, he said he remains hopeful the district will receive a large payment soon that will cut the amount the state owes the district in half. "We are optimistic the revenue will start to become more predictable," Dosier said.
In addition to waiting on funds to come in from the state, District 201 is receiving $1 million less in general state aid this year, according to Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer.
The district has already started formulating a plan to develop a budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. However, Mentzer said the district won't know how much the state will provide school districts in general state aid until the legislature decides in May or June.
"It's difficult to budget with the uncertainty of what the future holds from a funding statement," he said.
Every year, Dosier said district officials examine "ways we can cut our expenses or increase revenue or make more efficient use of the dollars we use for the education of our students."
The problem, according to Dosier, is the district has already made cuts in recent years.
Dosier said no specific plans have been formulated yet for cuts in the fiscal year 2014 budget as the district just began registering students for next school year.
"We will access where we are (in regards to) class sizes and our needs," he explained. "We will unfortunately probably have to make cuts we don't want to make. We will have to look at all our programs and see what we have to do."
"The farther away from kids you make cuts the better you are," Mentzer said, noting the district will look at non-instructional programs first.
However, he said it's likely the district won't replace seven teachers retiring at the end of this school year depending on what enrollment numbers dictate for class sizes.
School officials and board members are expected to begin budget discussions for next fiscal year in February. The district is behind where Dosier said they would like to be in the current budget cycle.
"We expected $1.3 million to be here by now. It's sort of sad when we are due to have $2.5 million, but we don't plan it on it anymore," he said. "We are trying to make the most efficient use of our dollars and do the most we can with what we have."
The district's total budget is $57 million.
Belleville District 118
Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the state of Illinois makes it hard for a school district to formulate a budget.
"It is difficult to know exactly how much we might need to cut when we will not know until May or June what the state is actually going to allocate to us for next year," he said. "It is a challenge when the state must cut the budget for us and also they send us the money we are owed late."
The district will not receive $1.6 million from the state this year due to the reduction in general state aid, and it's waiting on $1.4 million in delayed payments from the state.
Klosterman said the district will continue to closely monitor its enrollment patterns, which "directly impact whether we make any changes to our current number of staff."
In these uncertain financial times, District 118 is finding innovative ways to increase revenue.
The district operates its own food service program and contracts food services to 19 non-district schools as a way to generate additional revenue, according to Klosterman. In addition, the district operates its own latchkey program.
The district also has implemented several measures to reduce expenditures in recent years including eliminating district-sponsored field trips and freezing the salary schedule for employees.
Klosterman said the district is focused on ensuring "that we can continue to offer a rich, comprehensive curriculum and educational experience to our students and their families."
The district's total budget for fiscal year 2013 is $42.5 million, according to Klosterman. He said the district has received just under 60 percent of its budgeted revenue for this year and spent 52 percent of its budgeted expenditures.
"We are just slightly ahead of pace of receiving budgeted revenue and on par for spending," Klosterman said. However, "if the state continues to fund our district in the same way, we will spend more than we receive this year."
Belle Valley District 119
Business Manager Joan McKay said the district is waiting on more than $200,000 in delayed payments from the state and will not receive more than $356,912 from the state due to the reduction in general state aid.
McKay explained the district should have seen a boost in the amount of general state aid it received this year with the district's enrollment increase. However, she said the district is receiving about what it did last year in state aid.
Despite delayed payments and less money from the state, McKay said the district doesn't anticipate any cuts at this time. "If the state of Illinois passes legislation that will impact the district such as pension costs, then the district will need to address the issue for the coming years," she said.
The district is in line with its budget of $17 million and is in the preliminary stage for determining a budget for next fiscal year, according to McKay.
East St. Louis School District 189
District officials anticipate layoffs next school year as a result of the state's funding shortfall.
Currently, the state owes the district $1.6 million in delayed payments for early childhood, special education, transportation and other areas, according to Nick Mance, the district's internal auditor. In addition, he said the district is receiving $5.4 million less in general state aid this year.
Mance explained District 189 receives a majority of its funding through state and federal aid. "In an impoverished community such as ours, raising property taxes would be detrimental to the community and school district, through the loss of taxpayers," he said.
Currently, the tax rate is $10.27 -- one of the highest in the state, according to Mance. However, he explained this high rate does not supply significant funding because the total equalized assessed value is only $111,589,904, compared to an EAV of $524,645,312 for the average Consolidated Unit School District in Illinois. This translates to an EAV of $120,903 per pupil for the average district, Mance said, and $17,010 per pupil in East St. Louis School District 189.
"Although our students are among the neediest in Illinois, we continue to educate them with funding from a tax base that is only 14 percent of the average CUSD," he said.
The district is expected to end the current fiscal year with a $7 million deficit, Mance said, and has begun working on the budget for 2014. The district anticipates a 20 percent reduction in general state aid, which will represent a $9.9 million loss in funding, according to Mance. The actual state funding amount will be determined by the state legislature in May or June.
"The educational funding formula needs to be addressed to correct the inequalities in educational opportunities for children living in poverty stricken communities throughout the state," Mance said.
O'Fallon Township High District 203
Superintendent Darcy Benway said payments from the state continue to be delayed, and the district is currently awaiting $400,000. "We anticipate that we will receive these dollars at some point in time," she said.
In addition, $870,000 in payments to the district have been completely eliminated by the state over the last two years, according to Benway. By law, she explained the state has a foundation level funding for education at $6,119 per student in general state aid.
"However, the state did not budget adequate funds last year or this year to fund the general state aid formula. The state failed to allocate approximately $830,000 of general state aid to O'Fallon District 203 based on the statutory foundation level of $6,119," Benway said. "Finally, toward the end of last year the state did not have enough money to fund driver education at the approved levels. Nearly $40,000 of driver education reimbursement payments for OTHS were eliminated."
As a result of the state funding shortfall, District 203 is in deficit spending, according to Benway. She said district leaders are currently working on a deficit reduction plan that will be presented to the school board at its Feb. 21 meeting.
Central District 104
Superintendent John Bute said the district is waiting on close to $200,000 in payments from the state and will not be receiving $46,000 from the state as a result of the reduction in general state aid for this fiscal year.
To combat the state's shortfall, Bute said the district is looking at "minor alterations to its budget" for the 2013-2014 school year.
"We know that the political climate in Springfield is unpredictable, and we will adjust our budget throughout the spring and summer in an attempt to absorb any additional funding reductions," he said. "I am always looking for ways to maximize our budget. All expenditures are scrutinized to determine the impact on our educational mission."
The district's total budget is approximately $6.5 million.
Pontiac-William Holliday District 105
As a result of the state's funding shortfall, Superintendent Julie Brown said the district has been operating with an unbalanced budget. "Our budget last year was not balanced nor do we anticipate it to be this year," she said.
The district's current approved budget is unbalanced with a difference of $640,000, according to Brown.
She said the district's finance committee is looking at the current year's budget and will make suggestions for the fiscal year 2014 budget. "The finance committee and then the full board will be discussing ways that we can tighten our budget for the upcoming year since our EAV (equalized assessed value) has been decreasing; our expenditures have been increasing; and the state is behind in payments," Brown said.
Currently, the state owes the district $220,000 in delayed payments.
The district's total budget is approximately $7.7 million.
Harmony-Emge District 175
Superintendent Pam Leonard said the amount the state owes the district increases each day. The state owes the district $327,848 in delayed payments, according to Leonard.
District officials are currently in the process of evaluating and planning for next fiscal year. "We are hoping to maintain our current status," Leonard said. "However, we will know more in the following months."
If the state decides to only fund district's general state aid at 80 percent for next school year as projected, Leonard said the district would lose approximately $440,000 in state funding. For the current fiscal year, the district lost close to $275,000 in general state aid.
Granite City District 9
The state's delays in payment aren't as much of an issue as they used to be, according to Superintendent Harry Briggs. He said they're used to special education and transportation being late, but at least it eventually arrives.
"It's not a problem with the payments being late, it's how they've prorated the (state payments per student)," Briggs said. "It's caused a lot of problems in our district ... The issue to me is not the timing of the payment, but the amount they're paying."
State aid has been paid on time, Briggs said. But this year, Granite City lost nearly $2.4 million to the prorated payments.
It came in a year when the district lost another $1 million in revenue due to lower property values. As a result, Granite City had to cut $1.2 million in the middle of the year, and no more can be cut without another round of layoffs.
Among the cuts: Saturday detentions were cut to every other week, travel and technology updates were eliminated, capital improvements put off and more. Still, Granite City projects a $7.5 million deficit at the end of the year, thanks to income that keeps getting adjusted lower. Now the district is contemplating closing its oldest school: Niedringhaus Elementary, built in 1928 and in need of significant repair.
One thing that isn't up for discussion: raising property taxes, which Briggs said was the "last resort."
"It's incumbent upon us to do our due diligence, look at how we structure our programs and cut costs as much as we can before we have to do that," he said. "I'd rather see the state give us the money that we're due."
Collinsville Unit 10
Collinsville Unit 10 has been in lengthy discussions about closing Twin Echo Elementary and turning it over to the early education program, but the strong objections of parents and community members led them to decide earlier this week not to proceed.
The district had been advised by a consultant that they could save $400,000 by closing Twin Echo and consolidating transportation, though parents argued that they do not think the plan would have saved as much money as projected.
The school board has instructed its consultant firm, Edulog, to re-examine the bus routes and see how money can be saved while still allowing the children who currently walk to a neighborhood school to continue to do so.
Collinsville Superintendent Robert Green said the district was shortchanged $1 million last year and $1.9 million this year due to prorated payments. Their payments arrive on time, but are far less than they are owed, he said.
Finance Director Uta Robison had planned for those shortfalls, in fact, and budgeted far less in state aid than the formula indicated they would receive. As it turned out, she was almost exactly where the state cut: a shortfall of $1.9 million in this year alone.
"Sometimes they follow through and sometimes they don't," Robison said.
As far as the late payments go, though, Robison said receiving two categorical payments (for transportation and special education) from last year in this fiscal year has become "the new normal." She doesn't expect to receive the second two quarterly payments this year either, and will instead budget them next year.
Triad District 2
The prorated payments have cost Triad between $800,000 and $1 million, but Finance Director Ken Miller said they "kind of accept it and move on."
The state cuts weren't as painful when the federal stimulus money helped fill the gap, he said, but now that money is gone. One of the more significant cutbacks for Triad, which operates its own bus system, has been a three-year hold on buying new buses, he said. And while the bus maintenance goes up, he can't work new buses into the budget.
Even with $2.5 million in budget cuts over three years, Triad has a deficit of $3 million over the same time period and $1.8 million of it is this year. This is in spite of cutting textbook purchases, cutting the reading program for struggling elementary students and many extracurriculars. Reduced staff has included counselors and nurses, who now travel from building to building throughout the week.
Like the other districts, they get their special education and transportation money late -- January payments were owed in September or October. "Unfortunately, it's what we've gotten used to," Miller said. "The first couple of years I was checking our vouchers every month; now it's 'when it gets here, it gets here.'" Right now he estimates the amount owed and not paid at $950,000.
Superintendent Leigh Lewis said more drastic measures may need to be taken, including elimination of some education programs and extracurriculars. While the board has not discussed property tax increases, she said it may be in the future. "That's a discussion we have to have if we're talking about closing schools," she said. "I don't think you can talk about that without talking about going back to the taxpayers."
Still, they said it was "frustrating" to try to keep the budget working when they know the state owes them more money.
"It honestly wears you down," Miller said. "We're doing the best we can to keep the bills paid."