From steady decreases in transportation funding to the possible shift of pension obligations onto school districts, educators are facing several financial unknowns.
The candidates seeking a seat on the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board have varying levels of confidence over how easily those additional costs can be absorbed, as well as different ideas on how to approach future budgets.
Incumbents Anna Klimkowicz, Robert LeFevre and Edward Yung and challengers Roman Golash and Mike Scharringhausen are competing for three open seats in the April 9 election.
LeFevre, the current board president, said the district has been preparing for uncertainties and spent the past five years restructuring and reducing debt and the debt-related tax burden on residents. He expects the district will end up paying an additional $8 million annually toward pensions.
The district's operating budget for 2012-13 is about $216 million.
LeFevre said about 85 percent of the budget is locally funded, making District 211 better positioned than others more dependent on the state. He expressed frustration over the delays and wants action taken soon so the district can move forward, but said the district will be fine.
"Just like any financial problem we have, we look at how to do things differently and find a way to maintain high quality education," LeFevre, a certified public accountant elected in 2005, said. "We adapt."
Klimkowicz, a family case manager and licensed professional counselor seeking her fifth, 4-year term, pointed to contract negotiations next year with the teachers union as key to keeping other expenses in check.
She said concessions need to be discussed and recommends the district use interest-based bargaining to reach a more conservative agreement than in the past, though she acknowledges the issue of salaries will be "sticky."
Klimkowicz, who said school boards should have more say in the legislators' proposals, doesn't want District 211 to make taxpayers pay for all of the state's shortfalls.
"We have the money in our working cash funds, so we should be able to absorb some of it," Klimkowicz said.
Yung, an architect seeking his second term, said he would only support a tax increase if it's necessary to "maintain our level of a quality education in a safe, healthy environment."
He said a pressing financial concern for him is the number of appeals the district faces from commercial property owners. He supports putting resources into fighting them in court.
"If the appeal is won by the businesses, then the district must (pay) back these funds, which in turn takes money away from our current budget and places a larger burden on the residential property owners," Yung said.
Scharringhausen, a general manager at a wholesale fastener distribution company, agreed that District 211 is in a better position than most. He said there are no impending threats to programs.
"The district's reserve allows some flexibility to avoid having to make knee-jerk reactions when the state finally makes any decision," he said.
Scharringhausen, who said fiscal responsibility is his top priority, supports dipping into the district's healthy reserve fund to avoid raising taxes.
Golash, a retired U.S. Army colonel and current microbiologist who ran unsuccessfully for the board two years ago, predicts financial troubles ahead.
"At the rate we're going, it's really unsustainable," he said. "I see a gathering storm on the horizon."
Golash said lower tax levies, less lucrative employee contracts and a thorough assessment of what the district can afford are necessary to reduce the burden on taxpayers.
He also said many electives should be cut in favor of emphasizing English, math, science and American history, and believes that transition would help rein in costs and better prepare students.
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