ELGIN – Enrollment was growing at a rate of about 750 children a year, and classrooms were bursting at the seams.
Ken Kaczynski, president of the school board in the Elgin district, said the population in its schools grew from about 23,000 students in 1990 to about 40,000 today, and district officials had to take dramatic steps to accommodate all the incoming students.
"We were gaining an average of 750 students a year and some years, it was as high as 1,200 students," Kaczynski said. "We passed three referendums, one in the late '80s to build three elementaries, one in 1993 to build a high school and one in 2000 for $272 million to build five elementaries, a middle school and a high school.
"We just opened the high school this fall. We delayed a year because of financial problems in the education fund."
In fact, three elementaries and the new middle school were finished but couldn't open in August 2003 because the district didn't have the $2.8 million it needed to pay for staff, utilities and other operating expenses.
Elgin isn't the only district that passed a referendum and came up short of operating funds. Donald Schlomann, superintendent at Belvidere, said his district passed a $62.5 million referendum last spring to build a new elementary school and a new high school.
"We have another referendum in November," Schlomann said. "Referendums are my life. We need to increase the education fund tax rate to operate the new high school."
To avoid the kind of financial issues that faced Elgin and Belvidere, Champaign schools Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas balanced the district's budget with an infusion of bond money to cover an existing deficit and stabilize its budget before a $66 million bond issue to build schools goes to voters March 21.
Logas also figures per-pupil general state aid will cover the costs of hiring new teachers and operating two new schools. He said construction money invested while work is being done would generate enough interest to furnish the schools.
In Elgin, "We had some issues with general state aid and interest payments," Kaczynski said. "And in 2003, we found out we were about $40 million in debt when we thought we were break-even. We cut $39 million from the operating budget, eliminating 1,700 positions. As we stabilized, we gradually added back. We opened the buildings operating on a balanced budget."
He said work on the high school was slowed. Central office officials moved into part of that building while work was done on their headquarters, saving rent money.
"This cost us more in public trust than anything," Kaczynski said.