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updated: 8/8/2012 11:30 PM

New Dist. 15 budget a step toward healthier finances

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Although the deficit will grow from the tentative budget presented a couple of months ago, the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board Wednesday unanimously adopted a plan officials call a huge step toward healthier finances.

The fiscal year 2013 budget has the district spending about $5 million more than it will take in, a gap that widened by about $1.2 million from earlier projections.

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That's largely due to the newly approved teachers contract. While the agreement is expected to reduce deficit spending over time, it's costing the district more upfront because the deal restores nearly 28 full-time teaching positions that the tentative budget assumed would be eliminated.

District 15 also expected a $1.25 million reduction in health care costs for its program assistants, but the new Classroom Teachers' Council agreement nixed the move. The district eventually will realize those savings through attrition.

"That number (the deficit) starts getting smaller as you go out," Assistant Superintendent Mike Adamczyk said.

In total, the district will spend $145.8 million and another $4.9 million in debt payments. Its reserve fund will decrease to about $47 million.

Despite being in the red, it's a far sunnier picture than a year ago, when officials began an excruciating process to begin chipping away at the $10 million deficit originally projected for the 2012-13 school year.

Though some of the budget cuts were hard to make, such as reducing extracurricular stipends and doing away with a program that provided seniors with part-time work in schools, nearly all of the most impactful reductions were taken off the table or restored. Some of the cost-cutting measures that were avoided included dramatically increasing class sizes, laying off teachers, eliminating band and orchestra, and slashing program assistant hours and benefits.

"All those things were averted because of a really, I think, aggressive and progressive (teachers) contract," Superintendent Scott Thompson said.

The teachers contract includes a two-tier salary system that will lower pay for new hires, ultimately better aligning District 15's salaries and benefits with revenue.

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