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updated: 9/25/2012 5:53 PM

District 200 ready to OK balanced budget

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Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials are expected to approve a balanced budget Wednesday despite uncertainty about millions of dollars in expected payments from the state.

The state owes the district about $2.7 million in payments for items such as special education and transportation, said Bill Farley, assistant superintendent of business operations.

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The district hopes to receive the funds in the next few months and its budget anticipates receiving four payments in the fiscal year, Farley said. But two of the payments from the state typically have been late.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the 2012-2013 budget at today's meeting. The operating budget is projected to climb to $150.1 million -- up nearly 2.5 percent from the previous year.

The district does not plan to pursue short-term borrowing through tax anticipation warrants as it waits for state aid, Superintendent Brian Harris said.

District officials seriously weighed the option in April, a time of year when cash flow is low due in part to payroll expenses.

"We were borderline on whether we were going to have to issue (tax anticipation warrants)," Harris said.

But the district had "plenty of cash on hand," Harris said, when it received a $14.4 million construction grant from the state in May. In 2003, the district applied for the grant to fund classroom additions at Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South high schools.

In June, the school board approved using a portion of the grant -- about $2.8 million -- to pay off a five-year lease for computer network upgrades rolled out more than a year ago, including the addition of wireless Internet access in all district schools.

Officials are considering whether to use some of the remainder of the grant for a potential new Jefferson Early Education Center.

Jefferson's future could affect the projected budget if the district decides to pursue preliminary architectural work for the proposed Wheaton facility, Harris said. The board has not formally decided on the future of the building near the DuPage County Fairgrounds.

In November 2011, the district applied for a grant administered by the state to support a potential Jefferson project. The state has not announced a decision on the grant, that could be worth up to $5 million, despite assurances it would do so in January, March and July, Farley said in the email.

The new budget is in sharp contrast from two years ago, when the district made controversial cuts to help close a projected $8.6 million deficit. At the time, the school board approved a contract with the teachers union that froze both base salaries and step increases for one year. In the second year of the contract, step increases were still frozen, but the base salary rose by 1 percent.

A new teachers contract approved in June provides raises in each year of the agreement.

Another highlight of the tentative budget is that it includes the proceeds from the $5 million sale of the former Hubble Middle School property in Wheaton. The deal was finalized earlier this month.

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