Published Sept. 22, 2016
D181 budget approved despite board grumbling
By Ken Knutson
Community Consolidated Elemen-tary District 181 Board members unanimously approved a 2016-17 budget Monday night, but some were far from satisfied with the finished product.
The board signed off on a spending plan of $71.056 million, a roughly 2.7 percent increase over last year’s expenses. The budget comes in balanced, with projected $71.059 million in revenue. That figure, however, assumed the district will levy for $30 million in new construction in December, which the board did not do last year and which several hoped to avoid again this year.
In response to board objections over incorporating a so-called “levy to the max” in his revised budget Sept. 12, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Ken Surma unveiled another iteration that reduced the levy increase to .7 percent, representing the consumer price index. That, in turn, reduced earmarks for staffing contingency by $125,000 and for new textbooks by $175,000.
That didn’t sit well with board member Leslie Gray, an opponent of max levies, who said administrators should have instead offered ideas for trimming salaries at the district level.
“I personally would have liked some other options presented tonight that would have included that and not touched the classroom or students, as we had directed,” Gray said. “I feel like I’m being presented with two false choices tonight, neither of which I personally agree with.”
Board member Jill Vorobiev suggested administrators were painting an overly stark picture.
“Get rid of textbooks, levy to the max or deficit spend,” she said, characterizing the options presented. “Those are all dramatic options to put before us at this point time.”
Superintendent Don White responded that with 85 percent of the budget fixed due to contractual salary and benefit levels, wiggle room is scarce.
“We have extremely few options when it comes to personnel reductions,” White said. “When the board said, ‘Let’s come up with a scenario where you are not levying the new construction,’ that’s where we had to look at it at a high level and come up with big chunks of money.”
The district approves its property tax levy in December but then has a few months to decide if it wants to reduce the amount. The amount cannot be increased once submitted.
Board President Mridu Garg noted that the board could also amend the budget if the financial picture looks different in three months when the levy is determined.
“Typically the board has the ability to, at the levy discussion, make a reduction and then ask for impact on the budget,” she said.
Board member Marty Turek suggested this may be a year when his general opposition to maximum levies has to take a backseat.
“If we want to fund our things, we might have to levy to the max this time because we’re stuck with a .7 CPI,” Turek said.
Board member Rich Giltner pointed out the $30 million in new construction is an estimate that’s below last year’s level. “This, in theory, will not be a levy to the max,” he said. “We’re not against levying to max, we just want to levy to the need.”
Surma said he has already begun working on the 2017-18 budget so that board members can view, discuss and finalize it earlier in the cycle.
“I’m hoping that by the end of this fiscal year, we could easily have a three-year budget in place,” he told board members.