New district office, tax abatement are priorities in D181 proposed budget

Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 Board members Monday approved a tentative budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year totaling $82.8 million.

The forecast spending, which represents a 2.15 percent increase over the estimated 2021 expenses, includes $53.7 million for salaries and benefits, $7.7 million for capital projects and $5.8 million for operations and maintenance.

Revenue is expected to come in at $76.7 million, less than a percentage point less than is expected to be collected for the current year.

Rick Engstrom, financial director, said the plan is designed to be adaptable.

“I think it’s flexible for unforeseen circumstances — like we’ve seen in the last year and a half — while at the same time being realistic with our priorities, initiatives, goals, and realistic with our variances compared to the audit,” he said.

Priorities include spending $5.5 million to establish a district office building and abating (not collecting) about $6.2 million in property taxes as part of the district’s fund balance strategy of having not less than 30 percent and not more than 50 percent of the operating budget in reserve.

Superintendent Hector Garcia told board members that the budget addresses those items.

“We are really proud of the fact that we’ve fully accounted for those obligations that we have ... as well as returning any excess money to our taxpayers,” he said.

Engstrom noted fund balances drop in the proposed budget because of initiatives.

“Our (education) fund is decreasing due to the abatement amount that we’re setting aside,” he said. “The (operations and maintenance) fund is decreasing because we’re setting money aside for the district office building.”

There’s also $850,000 earmarked for book adoption and $690,000 for technology needs.

Garcia reported that property tax revenue and interest earnings are assumed to be flat. He said the state’s evidence-based funding, calculated based on the district’s ability to raise local resources coupled with enrollment, will also remain static.

“We believe that the evidence-based funding is going to remain at 100 percent of last year’s amount” of $2.25 million, he said.

The district is expecting to receive the same amount — $2.25 million — from the federal government and $550,000 in various state grants.

Engstrom said property taxes and other local sources comprise roughly 92 percent of the district’s revenue, and that salaries and benefits make up about 82 percent of spending.

Board member Sinead Duffy, chair of the finance committee, said she was pleased with the proposed budget and noted the district’s fund balance strategy is serving as a model statewide.

“Every item where we had a question ... is addressed in the current budget presented,” Duffy said, adding that the district continues to seek savings in transportation by trying “to maximize the number of students on our buses.”

Board member Bill Cotter, a committee member, said it also incorporates the potential for remote learning needs.

“We believed it was prudent to budget for the possibility of having to continue to provide remote instruction on a full-time basis,” Cotter said. “We’ve not made any decisions at this point about what instruction will look like in the fall.”

The tentative budget is on public display and is expected to be approved at the board’s June 21 meeting following a public hearing.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean