D229 Considers Reducing Courses To Offset Growing Budget Deficit
Oak Lawn Community High School Dist. 229 superintendent admits he's not overly optimistic of district's efforts to reduce deficit spending without take drastic steps at first of two public forums.
D229 officials floated a plan to possibly cut the number of classes that student is allowed to take in an attempt to stem deficits in the 2013-14 school year.
The measure was unveiled last week during the first of two public forums to discuss budget planning and rising deficits at Oak Lawn Community High School. The district is also considering a bond sale to help offset $500,000 in deficits when school reconvenes next month.
Referring to a PowerPoint presentation, assistant superintendent Rick Hendricks told parents, teachers and community members that the district could start running up annual deficits of $1 million beginning next year unless drastic steps are taken.
See the PowerPoint presentation for the budget planning forum.
“It we don’t make significant changes now at some point in time we won’t have sufficient funds available to continue to operate the school,” Hendricks said, D229’s financial manager.
Hendricks blamed the flat real estate market from the 2008 recession on deminished tax refunds from Cook County, and only partial payments from the state of what is owed to the district.
The D229 board of education has been working with district officials on a possible $8.2 million bond sale to generate income for the district, $1 million of which will be pumped into the district’s reserve fund. The remainder will be allocated to 2012-13 operational expenses and facility improvements for the 60-year-old school building.
D229 superintendent and OLCHS principal, Michael Riordan, said that the school board would vote on a preliminary operating budget in August, and the final operating budget in September.
The operating budget for the upcoming school year is $29,155,438 based on projected tax revenues. Projected expenditures for 2012-13 are forecast at $29,655,096—representing a $499,558 deficit.
Monies from the bond sale would “help the school make ends meet” in the coming school year.
“We’re cut to the bone,” Riordan said. “It would be difficult to cut another $500,000 from the budget.”
In addition to eliminating a combined 10 teaching, staff and full-time substitute positions, the district eliminated 19 extracurricular coach and faculty sponsor positions in 2011. The district also introduced student fees for sports and extracurricular activities, and combined some clubs.
The OLCHS teachers union agreed to forgo 6 percent of contractual raises over the next two years, Riordan said.
One of the proposed scenarios for 2013-14 was to limit student course enrollment from 7 to 6 classes. Since 2004-05, OLCHS students have been able to take up to 7 courses per semester.
Enrollment restriction would result in at least 60 less sections representing a $520,000 reduction in personnel, or eliminating 7-9 teaching positions. The district is also considering consolidating support staff positions through retirement and attrition.
“[The goal] is to get expenditures even with revenues, and roll reserves over a period of time,” Riordan said.
The superintendent/principal said changing back to a 6-class course load is commensurate with other comparable high school districts in the region.
Students most likely to be impacted by the proposed enrollment restrictions are those taking music, art, technology and foreign language electives.
Asking for the public’s input, several parents suggested holding fundraisers for such programs as music, or seeking private grants.
Riordan said the school has made attempts to increase fundraising by holding carnivals and benefits with moderate success, but not enough to keep pace with the growing half-million-dollar deficits.
“We’ve done quite a bit already to get costs down to maintain the same pace as revenue, but only made minimal progress,” Riordan said.
Parents also asked about holding a school referendum, but after the 2007 referendum passed, the district agreed to a ten-year moratorium.
“There is no board consensus at all that a referendum would be prudent to pursue,” Riordan said. “A lot of energy would be expended with very little chance of success.”
Kathy Barry, a parent, said there is a public perception that the district and board has already made its decisions.
“I want to know if that is true,” Barry said. “If it isn’t true than what you’re doing to combat public opinion that the decision has been made.”
Riordan said the district has been talking about the need for an adjustment for the past few years.
“A decision has not been made,” Riordan said. “I have to admit that I’m not overly optimistic that we can [reduce] expenditures without taking this next drastic step.”
Asked the day after the meeting if being a one-school district has contributed to D229’s financial woes, Riordan said: “I don’t think or know of any significant differences between single or multi-school districts. All school districts are having budget problems due to diminished revenues.”
D229 has set up a web page including the PowerPoint presentation from last Thursday’s meeting on the budget planning process. Answers to the public’s questions will be transcribed and posted to the website. Community members can also email questions before the next public forum scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 23, in the Oak Lawn Community High School media room.