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updated: 10/11/2012 12:06 AM

Financial forecast shows Dist. 15 surplus by 2016-17

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What a difference a year can make.

It wasn't that long ago that Palatine Township Elementary District 15 officials painted a dismal five-year financial outlook, with reserves projected to plummet from more than $50 million to less than one-tenth that amount.

Often contentious and polarizing debate followed about budget cuts that would eliminate jobs while increasing class sizes.

Fast-forward to Wednesday night, when District 15 shared new five-year projections showing its fund balance will remain at a healthy $53.8 million come 2016-17, exceeding the board of education's target.

The difference? The new, four-year teachers contract reached over the summer.

"I can't overstate the partnership between the board's and the teachers' negotiating teams," Superintendent Scott Thompson said. "They both came together and found a solution that validated the work the teachers are doing, but also helped us tremendously in our future financial forecast."

The agreement, which calls for salary increases of between 1.08 percent and 2.22 percent, including step movement for years of experience, created a two-tiered salary schedule for current and new teachers.

It also increased teachers' contributions to their health insurance and cut benefits for retirees.

As a result, this school year's budget calls for a $2.1 million deficit, down from the nearly $10 million deficit projected a year ago and shrinking to just a $179,000 shortfall in 2015-16. Officials expect District 15 to be back in the black the following year, if not sooner.

"We're trending in the right direction," Assistant Superintendent Mike Adamczyk said.

Adamczyk cautioned there are several unknowns that could alter the forecast. Springfield could shift some pension liability to school districts. Transportation reimbursements from the state could fall off even more. Health care costs could climb higher than expected.

Still, Adamczyk said he believes his estimates are conservative and thinks District 15 could have a surplus budget within a few years.

Thompson reiterated that the turnaround wouldn't be possible without the teachers leading the 12,000-student district.

"That they came to the table as partners to help find a solution is something that should be applauded," he said.

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