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updated: 6/6/2014 10:28 AM

D303 budget continues tax abatement, but expenses hit $210 million

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The price of educating students in St. Charles Unit District 303 will hit $210 million for the first time under a proposed new budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year starting in July. The good news for taxpayers is the budget includes a second year of a tax abatement, saving more than $2 million in tax collections coupled with a plan to spend down some of the district's ample reserves.

The full school board will get its first look at the budget Monday night. Members will see total expected income of about $209.5 million compared to the $210 million in predicted expenses. The deficit is intentional. There is more money in the district's debt service and tort funds than the school board's financial policies require. So those funds will be spent down to address the $500,000 deficit. Even with the use of some savings, the budget envisions maintaining overall reserves of nearly $92 million.

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The largest cost for the district remains salaries and benefits for staff and administrators. Those line items account for $129 million of the $210 million in expenses. Teachers are in the second year of a contract that will see them receive 2.8 percent raises in 2014-15.

Local taxpayers are still the largest source of income for the district, accounting for 71 percent of the cash flow. State funds are the second largest source of income, but the pool of state money coming to District 303 has decreased every year since at least the 2009-10 fiscal year. However, an optimistic 2014-15 budget envisions the receipt of about $4.93 million in general state aid, the most received since 2011-12. A memo from district staff members indicates that total might change before the school board takes a final vote on the budget in August.

Factoring into both the income and costs, the district is experiencing declining enrollment even with modest new property growth. That said, district officials will collect about $20 million more in property taxes from local residents than it did in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

"In general, this proposed budget will continue the district's sound financial footing and continue to provide the necessary resources for district operations," reads the memo.

Taxpayers can tell district officials what they think of the plan at a public hearing Aug. 11.

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