While a statewide financial analysis shows more than 100 school districts dropped out of the highest financial ranking in the past year, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200's financial profile has been upgraded to Recognition, the highest category of financial strength.
A financial profile provides a snapshot in time that helps the state board of education gauge school districts' financial condition. To qualify for Financial Recognition, a district must receive a score of 3.54 to 4.0. District 200 received a 3.8, requiring little or no review or involvement by the state board of education unless District 200 should request it.
As I reflect back over the past few years, I attribute our upgraded ranking to careful financial planning and creating efficiencies across district operations. It is really important to consistently look for opportunities to create efficiencies in our operations without sacrificing the high-quality education our community expects.
In fact, over the past five years, the district has made significant budget reductions to positively impact our financial health. For example we cut $15 million in expenses from 2009 to 2011; adopted a balanced budget for the past three consecutive years; adopted a fund balance policy to maintain a fund balance of not less than 25 percent and not more than 40 percent of total operating budget, representing approximately 90 to 140 days of operation; negotiated a teacher contract that is tied to the Consumer Price Index and eliminates retirement incentives that increase pension obligations, effective beginning the 2012-13 school year; refunded outstanding debt in 2012, resulting in a $1.2 million savings to taxpayers; allocated $10.7 million of a $14.4 million state of Illinois construction grant into the fund balance, resulting in a 25 percent overall fund balance.
Adopted in March 2012, the board's fund balance policy targets a fund balance of not less than 25 percent and not more than 40 percent, representing approximately 90 to 140 days of operation. Of the original $14.4 million grant received, $2.8 million was allocated for technology upgrades and $860,000 was used for capital projects.
Since 2009, the state of Illinois has slashed K-12 education funding by more than $900 million and I anticipate that reductions will continue. Our leadership understands that while it will be difficult to maintain financial health in the coming years due to decreased state funding, Recognition status is the goal and precautions are being taken to make sure we remain in good financial standing.
Long-term financial health and managing district resources prudently are goals of our board of education. To maintain our strong financial health, we are committed to conservative five-year financial forecasting; budgeting for potential local pension obligation; continued energy savings initiatives; and negotiating modest collective bargaining agreements.
• Brian Harris is superintendent of Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200. His column appears monthly during the school year.