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updated: 8/19/2014 3:04 PM

Indian Prairie board members factoring heat into budget

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  • Mark Rising, a school board member in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, talks about the effect of canceling elementary classes for "heat days" on state funding the district receives. The district lost $750,000 from calling three "heat days" the past two years.

       Mark Rising, a school board member in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, talks about the effect of canceling elementary classes for "heat days" on state funding the district receives. The district lost $750,000 from calling three "heat days" the past two years.
    Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

 
 

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board members have their eyes on the weather forecast as they prepare to approve their next budget.

The board on Monday night tentatively approved a $309.8 million spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1 and runs until June 30, 2015.

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Board members asked not so much about this year's budget, but about projections for state funding in the future.

Part of the district's state aid could be in jeopardy if the heat rises and administrators decide to cancel classes in elementary schools that will have to wait one more year before receiving partial air conditioning, said Jay Strang, chief school business officer.

That's because the state pays the district based on how many students attend class each day. When thousands of elementary students are told not to come because it's too hot, the district can't collect the funding it otherwise would receive for teaching those students.

The district called three heat days during the past two years, resulting in a loss of $750,000.

"If that happens again, we just continue to lose money," board President Lori Price said.

Price asked if board members could avoid losing state funding by calling off school for the entire district if a heat wave strikes instead of canceling classes only in buildings without cooling systems. If the district were to go that route, she said public outreach would be needed to inform community members that the district canceled school for all students to prevent the loss of state funding.

Strang said canceling school districtwide during hot conditions is an option, but "you'd have two-thirds of the district who would be home who would normally be in school."

Superintendent Karen Sullivan said neither option is a good one -- not canceling classes only for schools without air conditioning and losing state money, and not canceling school districtwide for a "heat day" that might have to be made up later to ensure no loss of state funding. She said the best option would be for the summer version of the "polar vortex" to continue so school can take place as planned beginning Tuesday, Aug. 26.

Forecasts call for the area to reach the 90s by the weekend but cool down to about 80 degrees by Monday.

District 204 will be spending $3.7 million in the budget discussed Monday to install partial air conditioning at 19 schools without full cooling systems. Roughly a quarter of classrooms at each school will be equipped by August 2015 with a ductless air-conditioning system that uses a compressor on the roof, refrigerant lines and fain coil units to cool the air.

The budget that received tentative approval Monday night is an increase from last year's planned expenditures of $301.5 million. But it's a balanced budget, Strang said, and it's supported by $309.9 in revenue.

The $31,755 difference between projected revenue and expenditures is a slight one, Strang said, but the budget contains no deficit spending. It will be up for a final vote Sept. 22.

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