D65 to adopt unbalanced budget plan

Jonathan Murray

After struggling for months to balance the 2001-02 operating budget, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members reluctantly will adopt a $74 million plan still in the red by $1.4 million.

The board will vote on the budget at its regular meeting tonight, culminating a month- long process that has yielded the unbalanced budget.

Board member Mary Erickson said this year’s deficit follows a trend of close calls throughout the past several years. This year the deficit could not be solved before the board was forced to adopt a budget.

The D65 school board begins its new fiscal year July 1, but the board does not actually adopt a budget until September.

“We’re already running in the red for our cash flow,” Erickson said.

The budget has grown in “natural percentages” in the past few years, Erickson said. She said high capital improvement costs and tax caps have made it harder to balance the budget, almost to the point where it is impossible.

The $61 million Education Fund, which includes employee salaries, learning materials and operating costs, will have a $20,000 surplus this year, but district officials said capital improvement costs have created an overall budget deficit.

“This is a year where we can deal with (a deficit), but next year it will be a problem,” Erickson said.

Board member Greg Klaiber said he will vote for the budget, but only because the board has run out of time to adopt one.

“I don’t see myself voting again for a budget that’s in the red,” he said.

A big problem every year is the budget process itself, Klaiber said. The process does not allow enough time for discussion before the budget must be approved.

“We need to change the process, and the board recognizes that,” he said.

Throughout the year the board has been able to avoid cutting employee salaries and benefits, which make up 88 percent of the budget, Klaiber said.

Instead it has tried to recoup extra costs by streamlining capital improvements and building maintenance.

As a result of the deficit, this year’s funding will be tight, Erickson said. The board will have to watch money carefully and limit its other actions.

“We need to stick to the budget,” she said. “We may have to reallocate some money.”

Klaiber echoed Erickson’s concern. He said many problems, such as rising class sizes in some schools, cannot be dealt with when the budget is in deficit.

“Parents want extra teachers, and the issue for us is, if it will put us in the red, we can’t do it,” he said. “Anything that’s not already budgeted will likely not be adopted.”

At tonight’s meeting, the board also will discuss the process for making future changes to the budget of the Early Childhood Education/Administration Building. Workers broke ground on the project earlier this month.

The board will determine who can approve changes to the project’s budget.

Depending on how expensive the change is, the decision could be made by the project manager, the superintendent or the school board.

The board will meet at 8:30 p.m. Monday at King Lab School, 2424 Lake St.