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updated: 10/11/2013 10:55 AM

Dist. 57 budget reflects 'stable' financial picture

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It wasn't that long ago that officials in Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 were talking about having to ask voters for a tax increase to shore up district finances.

During the past few years, though, the district's position apparently has stabilized.

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"Stable is a good word for where we are," said Dale Falk, the district's assistant superintendent for finance and operations. "But that doesn't mean we don't have concerns going forward."

The District 57 school board recently adopted a budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that shows expenditures of about $24.6 million and predicted revenues of about $24.4 million. The district will dip into its fund balances to cover the $200,000 shortfall.

The budget includes $750,000 for capital improvements. Last year's budget contained an identical provision, and it was used for projects like improving drainage near Lincoln Middle School and improving bathrooms inside Lions Park Elementary School, Falk said.

"We have a master facilities plan that identifies projects that need to be completed," he said. "We like to stay on top of those kinds of improvements."

A big question that remains with regards to the budget is the new contract for District 57's teachers. The last contract expired at the end of June, and no new deal has been reached. Negotiations between the district and the Mount Prospect Education Association are continuing.

"When we do reach an agreement, I'll have to go back and amend the budget," Falk said.

Overall, the district is on solid financial ground, Falk said. The operating budget is balanced and fund balances remain at healthy levels; in a post on the district's website, Superintendent Elaine Aumiller said the fund balances are between 50 percent and 60 percent of the district's operating expenses.

Falk credited recent difficult decisions by the administration and school board -- teacher layoffs and salary freezes among them -- with stabilizing district finances.

Still, the district must remain vigilant, he said. Revenue sources like aid from the state and federal governments are difficult to predict. Local property tax objections and the possibility of pension reform could also affect future budgets, he said.

Meanwhile, both the district and the teachers union express hopes that a new deal will be finalized soon. The last contract expired June 30.

"The District 57 negotiating team and the Mount Prospect Education Association team have been meeting since early last spring," said Carolyn Story, a District 57 teacher and spokeswoman for the union. "There have been numerous proposals and counterproposals, (but) no agreement has yet been reached."

Story said professional development, salary and working conditions are among the issues still being discussed.

Story said that while teachers don't like working without a deal in place, they continue to do the same job as always.

"Teachers are doing their jobs, putting their students' needs first and delivering a quality education every day," she said.

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