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posted: 5/8/2014 5:30 AM

Revenue creation ideas flow at Engage200 session

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Many of the nearly 200 residents attending Wheaton Warrenville District 200's fifth Engage200 session on Wednesday drew a blank when asked how the district should cut spending.

Some said they felt the district already was "bare bones," while others said they don't know how more cuts could be made without seriously impacting students.

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Suggestions for ways the district could increase revenue, however, were bountiful.

Bring in a professional organization to do fundraising. Reach out to successful alumni for donations.

Apply for more corporate or private grants. Increase registration fees. Charge rental fees for the use of district facilities by other organizations. Build up the District 200 Foundation.

All the input will be analyzed and taken into consideration as the district moves on to its sixth and final community engagement session next month.

Engage200 is a citizen-led effort to gather opinions from the community to help shape the district's future. Wednesday's session at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton was focused on finances, but previous meetings have addressed facilities, programs and student achievement. A report with a summary of the findings from all the sessions will be presented to the board of education this summer.

Mike Frances, a senior financial consultant for PMA Financial Network -- the district's financial adviser -- and Bill Farley, the district's assistant superintendent of business operations, started Wednesday's meeting with a presentation about where the district gets its money and how its finances have changed over time.

They explained that funding for the district comes from three sources: Federal, state and local. More than 59 percent, however, is local, and the majority of that local funding comes from property taxes.

State funding saw peaks in 2008 and has dropped significantly since then, Farley said. For example, general state aid has decreased from $9.6 million six years ago to $6.4 million this year. Special education and transportation funding from the state has also decreased by millions in that time.

Federal funding has remained mostly flat, although Farley said the district unfortunately has seen an increase in the funding it receives based on the free and reduced lunch program, which means there are now more low-income students who qualify for the benefit.

Frances noted the highest expenditures for every school district are salaries and benefits and, in District 200, it is about 79 percent of total expenditures.

The district has the second-lowest tax rate when compared to the benchmark districts like Naperville Unit District 203 and Barrington School District 220, Farley said. It also has one of the lower amounts of spending per pupil.

This is the fourth consecutive year the district has had a balanced budget, and Farley noted that the last time the district received money for operating expenses through a referendum was more than 25 years ago.

The district's financial future, however, is dependent on factors such as changes in the consumer price index, enrollment and uncertain state funding and pension obligations.

Farley said the district is "looking at a potential deficit" unless it makes changes, and he said there are opportunities to do so.

That's why attendees were asked to list five expenditures the district should consider reducing and five approaches the district should consider to increase revenue.

They were also asked what additional information they need to better understand district finances. Answers to that question included suggestions such as a breakdown of how much revenue comes from fees or commercial businesses and a list of unfunded mandates the district is currently faces.

Engage200 co-chairman Scott Brown urged attendees to visit the business section on the district's website, cusd200.org, for more information.

Taxpayers who couldn't attend Wednesday's session are also encouraged to visit the website to submit their own suggestions, view the PowerPoint presentation from the meeting or read work sheets completed by attendees.

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