Champaign schools official anticipates balanced budget next year

Champaign schools official anticipates balanced budget next year

CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign school district is ending this fiscal year in the red, but next year should be better. The district should have a balanced budget for the coming school year, says Gene Logas, chief financial officer for the district.

Logas said the district will start out the fiscal year, which begins July 1, with a deficit of about $2 million. But an infusion of money from the district's working cash fund will help balance next year's budget.

It will also see about $3.5 million more in property tax revenue, thanks to an increase of 9 percent in assessed value – the biggest increase in at least 10 years, Logas said.

The school board will review the final $85 million budget for the current year at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Mellon building, 703 S. New St., C. Logas hopes to present updated information about the budget for the coming fiscal year as well, although it is still in the preliminary stages. He'll present a detailed picture of the budget in July or August, and the board is scheduled to approve it in August.

He said the district started the current fiscal year with a deficit of $2.5 million, and he expects it will reduce that amount by about $500,000.

"In terms of trying to build credibility, that's the right direction to be moving," Logas said.

The district is trying to balance its budget after 10 years of overspending and deficits.

It has used money from its fund balances to do so, and it cut $2 million from the current fiscal year's budget. That meant job cuts, including eliminating playground and lunch supervisors, a guidance counselor position at each of the middle schools, library clerks in the elementary schools, some teaching positions, and a director of operations and director of secondary curriculum at headquarters.

"Everyone has really been working hard to stay within budgets," Logas said. "The deficits have been smaller than what they could have been. More importantly, there's a plan now in place to make sure it doesn't happen again."

The district was still operating at a deficit though, and in order to avoid making more cuts, it issued $6.3 million in working cash bonds in January. It will put $2.1 million of working cash into the budget for each of the next three fiscal years in order to balance it.

After that, the district's federal consent decree is set to expire, and Logas said officials hope the court will find it has met its obligations and lift the consent decree. That will save the district about $2 million per year in legal and consulting fees, he said.

Balancing the next fiscal year's budget is a trust issue with the community, Logas said. The school district promised to do so when it issued the working cash bonds.

"We've done this in a measured manner," said Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd. "We could have done it in one year, but (more cuts) would have decimated the school district. Our top priority for how we spend money is always going to be students.

"We feel really good about what we've been able to accomplish," she said.

In addition to the working cash and increased property tax revenue, next year's budget will include a savings of about $500,000 from retirements, and $600,000 in one-time textbook savings.

On the other hand, Logas expects general state aid to decrease by about $1 million.

The district will also spend about $2 million more on salaries, about $300,000 more on health care costs, and $203,457 for school resource officers. The cost of supplies, services and utilities are also increasing. And it will spend $60,000 to restore some playground supervisors.

"All of our new revenue will be eaten up by new expenditures," Logas said.

"We still face some financial challenges," he continued. "We're making great progress, but we still need to watch every dime."

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