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updated: 9/16/2013 10:19 PM

U-46 proposed budget for 2014 draws criticism

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Three years since a nearly $42 million deficit forced Elgin Area School District U-46 to cut programs, increase class sizes and layoff 399 employees -- including 314 teachers and 19 administrators -- administrators are now seeking to hire 48 additional teachers in fiscal year 2014.

The roughly $527 million proposed budget for expenditures for the state's second-largest school district also includes a 10 percent increase in employee health insurance costs because of high claims last year, officials said.

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Salary costs also are up, officials said.

Several community members voiced concerns Monday night about increasing property taxes being a burden during a public hearing on the proposed 2014 budget.

Rick Newton, a resident of Wayne, said though the district's student population has remained flat since 2007, expenses such as employee benefits and medical insurance have increased dramatically.

"Administration salaries have increased by 21 percent -- $3.7 million -- since Fiscal Year 2011," he said.

Meanwhile, the district's investment into academic improvements has yielded only a lower ACT average of 19.4, down from 19.5 in 2012, he said.

"My property taxes this past year went up 6.54 percent; 6.2 percent of those percentage points came as a result of U-46," Newton said. "Who on this board will provide fiscal responsibility on behalf of the district's taxpayers? You are a contributing factor for the migration of people out of Illinois."

Another district taxpayer suggested cuts in the number of administrators to eliminate redundancies.

A couple of Bartlett residents said they feel like they are being taxed disproportionately.

Property values in the district continue to fall and the low-income population continues to rise -- two factors that affect funding.

Richard Francke of Bartlett said the district's budget is out of control.

"It is hard to imagine that no matter how much money is taken in taxes, it isn't enough to cover the colossal spending which always exceeds revenue," he said.

Francke said the district needs to better explain contingency expenses, which have grown from zero to more than $53 million in spending in five years.

U-46 will get $86 million from the state for its fiscal year 2014, which started July 1 and ends next June. That's $23 million more than the previous year but $10.6 million short of what the district deserves, per the state's own funding formula.

The state has paid only 89 percent of the total aid calculation last year and this year, officials have said. Transportation funding also is down.

The district will receive $32.4 million this year in federal funding, which is $1 million less than what it got last year. The cuts are a result of federal sequestration -- automatic funding cuts that came from the partisan budget standoff in Congress earlier this year.

Susan Kerr said she has lived within the district for 20 years and witnessed it go through many ups and downs.

"We finally seem to have gotten rid of the deficit," she said lauding the administration's efforts to protect academic programs and the gifted program.

However, Kerr said, the district's class sizes are still too large and "parents are being asked to shoulder too many additional expenses."

"When decisions are made, put the children first," she said.

The entire budget is available for review at www.u-46.org, in the financial section under the District Information tab on the U-46 homepage.

The school board is expected to take a final vote on Monday, Sept. 23.

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