District 65 budget passes despite concerns about surplus

Evanston%2FSkokie+School+District+65+board+president+Suni+Kartha+at+a+meeting.+In+response+to+concerns+about+the+Fiscal+Year+2018+budget+surplus%2C+Kartha+said+Monday+that+the+district+needs+to+discuss+solutions+for+spending+soon.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board president Suni Kartha at a meeting. In response to concerns about the Fiscal Year 2018 budget surplus, Kartha said Monday that the district needs to discuss solutions for spending soon.

Jake Holland, Assistant City Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members voted Monday to approve the fiscal year 2018 budget even after several residents voiced concerns about the large budget surplus.

The surplus, which stood at nearly $14.6 million in the finalized version, will be preserved to offset future deficits so that District 65 can remain without a deficit until at least fiscal year 2025, according to a Wednesday memorandum. However, some worried that such a surplus would encourage reckless spending.

“For the next four years, the district is going to be flush with cash,” said Jim Young, a District 65 parent. “People are going to think that we’ve got unlimited money, unlimited new programs.”

Young said he was pleased the community overwhelmingly supported April’s referendum, which increased property taxes to cover the district’s projected $114.4 million budget deficit by Fiscal Year 2025.

However, he said the excess money could lead district residents into a similar budget crisis that necessitated the April referendum unless the board and administration change the way they manage spending.

Board president Suni Kartha said though the referendum helped alleviate some of the budget issues, it was not a long-term fix.

“We had taken steps for several years by cutting spending in such a way that we were able to reduce (the deficit) somewhat, but it wasn’t going to be sufficient,” Kartha said. “What the referendum bought us is some time.”

Kartha said the district needs to “change the way it spends” and start discussing solutions now rather than waiting to make adjustments.

Overall, the final budget is about $70,000 less than the tentative Fiscal Year 18 budget proposed in August. Kathy Zalewski, treasurer of the board, said this difference came from decreases in revenue and expenditures, the former seeing a more significant drop.

The fluctuations in revenue mainly came from changes in local, state and federal aid. In terms of expenditures, benefits for staff members were reduced by about $783,000, but the salary budget was increased by about $283,000 due to the creation of new instructional and non-instructional positions.

Zalewski said the $70,000 change, though “not ideal,” was small in comparison to the overall budget. She said the district will “be working hard this year” to review the budget so as to avoid future surprises.

Joseph Hailpern, a District 65 school board member, agreed that it is essential to have conversations – with both the community and the board – while the district is “in a good place.”

“It’s one thing to have this debate when our backs are up against the wall,” Hailpern said. “It might be a good option for this board to talk about how we’re spending all our money … prior to getting there.”

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