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updated: 8/11/2011 6:33 PM

District 207's deficit spending continues despite cuts

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Maine Township High School District 207 is projecting a nearly $4 million deficit in its proposed 2011-2012 fiscal year operating budget that will be covered through the district's reserve.

Though still a sizable shortfall, it's a long way from where the district was in spring 2010 when it laid off more than 130 employees -- including 75 teachers -- to help cut $15 million in expenses from the 2010-2011 academic year.

"Let us hope that we never have to do anything like that again," said Mary Kalou, District 207's assistant superintendent for business.

District 207's leaner workforce -- roughly 840 employees, of which 500 were teachers in the 2010-2011 school year -- will be trimmed further when school begins in the fall with the loss of eight certified teachers and 2.5 full-time equivalent clerical staff. The district is hiring four more teaching assistants.

Kalou said the district has reduced expenses by more than $1 million for the 2011-2012 school year partially through the layoffs, and by cutting overtime, and reducing electrical and natural gas costs. Yet, expenses still outpace expected revenues.

After an Aug. 1 public hearing, the school board approved a tentative budget with $140.6 million in overall expenditures for the 2011-2012 school year. Revenues are projected to be roughly $137.4 million. The board will adopt the final budget at its Sept. 6 meeting.

The nearly $4 million shortfall is in the district's operating expenses. "We are using about $4 million of our $94 million reserve" to plug the hole, Kalou said.

The deficit is largely due to shortfalls in federal and state funding.

The district will receive $400,000 less in general state aid and other mandated funding next year. Federal revenues from Title I and one-time stimulus funds also are projected to decrease by $1.5 million. Kalou said that without the stimulus funds, the district probably would have cut more teaching assistants.

She said officials are trying to keep deficit spending to a minimum and making cuts where needed without it affecting programs.

"We have not seen the end of cuts," she said.

The current five-year teachers union contract, which ensures a 6 percent pay raise on average in the final year, expires at the end of 2012.

Issues such as whether employees ought to pay more toward health care premiums, size of pay raises and length of contracts will likely come up next spring during negotiations for a new teachers' contract. Presently, individual district employees pay 5 percent toward the cost of their health insurance plans with the district covering the remainder; for families the split is 20/80.

"I think everyone would agree that the economic circumstances that surround us now are very different from five years ago when that contract was negotiated," Kalou said. "Those are all things that we would sit down and talk with our teachers."