Despite significant COVID-19 revenue losses, D65 projects balanced budgets


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Board president Suni Kartha. At the board’s finance committee meeting on Monday, Kartha emphasized the importance of keeping state representatives accountable for the distribution of education funding.

Jacob Fulton, Assistant City Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 anticipates a $1.5 million loss in revenue for fiscal year 2020, but still expects to end the year with a balanced budget.

The district is, however, facing up to a $4.3 million loss in revenue in fiscal year 2021.

At the finance committee meeting Monday, the school board discussed the potential impact of COVID-19 on District 65’s finances, and planned for budget cuts in the coming years. Eighty percent of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes, Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial and operations officer said, which are being affected by the current recession.

For similar reasons, the district is also facing investment losses that will amount to approximately $400,000, according to Kathy Zalewski, the district’s business manager. The district is also losing child care fees and lunch sales, which are both contributing to the deficit.

The district will still finish the 2020 fiscal year with a balanced budget. While District 65 did not anticipate remote learning expenses such as hotspots and new software, in-person instruction expenditures like utilities and supplies have been eliminated.

The district is also slated to receive around $800,000 in federal support from the CARES Act, and is still waiting to receive state and federal funds.

“The state has a really lousy record when it comes to passing money from the federal government to school districts,” Obafemi said. “Since the state is in financial trouble, there’s a good chance that the state will probably sit on that money and pay us when they feel like it.”

The uncertainty, coupled with the expected loss in revenue, have caused complications in planning the budget for the 2021 fiscal year, as the district is currently projecting a $4.3 million decrease in revenue.

On Monday, the district discussed cutting back in consulting services, re-negotiating contracts, putting a freeze on no-essential hiring personnel. Before COVID-19, the board had an planned attrition for vacant positions, but it will contribute to a decreased deficit, Zalewski said.

The new budget is scheduled to be presented to the board next month, and Zalewski said she plans for it to be balanced.

Board president Suni Kartha said it’s important the district community holds the Illinois government accountable and pushes for on-time delivery of funding and more state support.

Board member Joseph Hailpern said it’s the district’s job to provide for its students, and the pandemic has made the entire Evanston community re-evaluate what that might look like.

“Schools are supposed to be non-partisan places, but that doesn’t mean they have to be passive places,” Hailpern said. “People can advocate within the community… and see if we can have a better discussion about how to share these burdens, because they’re all our kids.”

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Twitter: @jacobnfulton1
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