Published Oct. 1, 2015
Dist. 86 2015-16 budget comes in balanced
Board splits in approving spending plan, with critics decrying it as unsustainable
By Ken Knutson
The Hinsdale High School District 86 Board approved a 2015-16 budget of $101.1 million at its Sept. 21 meeting.
By a 5-2 vote, board members approved the balanced spending plan, which projects a rise in property tax revenue of $1.1 million but increases in salaries and benefits totaling about $1.4 million.
In presenting the budget, Chief Financial Officer Bill Eagan said transfers of $4.8 million from bond proceeds and another $1.2 million in debt certificates brought the budget in balanced.
“We are budgeted a small, modest surplus of $20,833,” Eagan reported.
The board had earlier given the go ahead for the self-financed $4.8 million in bond proceeds to be used to remodel the district’s Transition Center and pay down the district’s unfunded liability to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
Eagan reminded board members that property taxes account for about three-quarters of the district’s budget, and employee salaries and benefits comprise nearly the same percentage on the expenses side.
“The cost of an employee is not only their base pay but also their benefits,” he said.
Board member Ed Corcoran, one of the budget’s detractors, said the district’s $1.1 million increase in tax revenue would be entirely consumed by wages and benefits.
“So $1.4 million (in increased spending) between salaries and health insurance alone, and our tax increase was less than that,” Corcoran said. “I’m not in favor of us spending more than we take in, in terms of salaries and health insurance, because it’s not sustainable.”
During the public comment portion of the public hearing, Darien resident Joan Brandeis urged the district to restore its practice of hiring permanent substitute teachers instead of temporary ones and suggested the reason the employee expenses outstrip the increase in revenue is due to poor fiscal management by the board.
“In school districts, 80 percent of your budget is people. And the fact that you under-levied for two different years has an impact on that,” she said.
Hinsdale resident Linda Burke echoed those comments and also advocated for a consortium of school districts to help impose “boundaries and checks and balances around ‘Big Pharma’ and what they’re allowed to charge for these new drugs.
“Instead of demonizing teachers over the insurance increase, let’s try to get to the root causes of it,” Burke said.
Eagan reported that health insurance spending had gone up about 10 percent, compared to a 12 percent jump the previous year.
In casting the other dissenting vote, board member Claudia Manley bemoaned that money had not been allocated for student enrichment tools.
“It’s very disappointing that not one penny of the budget is actually going toward a program which supports something that a student would need in the classroom, supportive technology, that sort of thing,” Manley said.
Darien’s Roger Kempa said the budget showed several areas of deficit spending.
“In the official cash basis budget, as noted, there’s five funds in a red negative deficit position,” Kempa said. “I find that unacceptable, and I think most of the public and taxpayers do.”
In response to that comment and before taking a vote on the budget, board President Kay Gallo asked Eagan if there were any errors in the budget.
“Not that I’m aware of materially or otherwise,” he responded.
Then referring to the official budget form in the digital presentation, he agreed that certain funds may initially appear to show a deficit but said that’s not the whole story.
“If you scroll down and note the other sources and uses of funds, the rest of the accounting comes into play and you are at a balanced budget. You need to understand the entire form.”