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updated: 9/24/2013 5:12 AM

U-46 OKs budget balanced by dipping into reserves

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The Elgin Area Unit District 46 school board voted 4-2 Monday night to spend roughly $527 million for the 2013-2014 academic year, dipping into reserves to balance the budget.

The budget represents a roughly 6 percent increase over last year's expenditures for the state's second-largest school district. It includes a 10 percent increase in employee health insurance costs because of high claims last year, and higher salary costs, officials said.

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The district will be hiring 48 additional teachers in fiscal year 2014.

Officials are projecting roughly $519 million in revenue, which will result in the district having to dip into its savings for $7.5 million. A major portion of that money will come out of working cash funds to finance capital projects this year, official said.

The district ended last school year with a nearly $5 million surplus across all funds. There is no surplus projected this year.

U-46 is expecting nearly $86 million in aid from the state in fiscal year 2014, which started July 1 and ends next June. That's $24 million more than the previous year but $10.6 million short of what the district should receive per the state's 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.

It's been three years since a nearly $42 million deficit forced U-46 to cut programs, increase class sizes and layoff 399 employees -- including 314 teachers and 19 administrators.

A couple of school board members still had questions on the proposed expenditures, such as how hiring more teachers affects the student/teacher ratio, and asked if the vote to approve the budget could be delayed.

The administration said the staffing ratio should remain the same despite new hires in the areas of art, music, physical education, and support staff. The exact ratio won't be available until Sept. 30, officials said.

Superintendent Jose Torres said while he didn't know the legal ramifications of delaying the budget approval, a "no" vote would be tantamount to closing the district's doors.

"A vote of 'no' would be really surprising to me," Torres said. "We've had a long time to address questions from the board."

Board member Frank Napolitano said a "no" vote should not close schools and only means that the district administration goes back to the drawing board to modify the budget and comes back with a revised proposal. Napolitano and board member Veronica Noland voted against the budget Monday.

While only one community member spoke against the budget Monday, several taxpayers voiced concerns at an earlier public hearing about increasing property taxes and rising expenses such as employee benefits and medical insurance.

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.

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.

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