After much discussion among members at a special meeting Thursday, Grayslake Elementary District 46's board agreed to adopt a 2012-13 academic year budget that projects a $1.2 million deficit.
While the Illinois State Board of Education requires schools to approve budgets by Sept. 30, officials at District 46 said it was unclear what would happen if that task wasn't accomplished. Board members who voted against the budget had pushed to work on eliminating the deficit before approving the document.
Last week, the board's 3-3 vote on the budget forced Thursday's special session at Avon Center School in Round Lake Beach. On Thursday, board member Keith Surroz switched his position from last week and provided the swing vote in a 4-3 tally in favor of the $49.1 million spending plan.
Speaking after the session, Surroz reiterated his decision to vote in favor of the budget came from a desire for the board to move forward. He also said elected officials are allowed to amend the budget and he is satisfied that the board has a strong desire to make necessary cuts to plug the expected $1.2 million hole.
But board member Shannon Smigielski, who voted against the budget, said the district is treading on "dangerous territory" if it has a spending plan dependent on fund transfers and other methods. She also said it was backward to seek approval for a budget with an attached $1.2 million deficit, then look to make cuts.
Another opponent, board member Kip Evans, said he was working at Round Lake Area Unit District 116 when a special state authority seized control of its financial affairs in 2002 and that he believes a similar situation is brewing at District 46.
The state didn't return power to District 116's elected school board until the 2010-11 academic year.
"We're going down the wrong path, ladies and gentlemen," Evans said.
Chief School Business Official Anna Kasprzyk said the state's failure to send about $1.5 million in general aid to the district -- not spending too much -- is responsible for the deficit. She also said a tax increase is expected for property owners.
District 46 has a variety of possible cost-saving measures on the table. Among them are closing a school, year-round classes, boosting registration fees, eliminating textbooks and slicing substitute teacher pay. Others include reducing wireless telephone expenses, not paying for dinners at conferences requiring travel and trimming mileage reimbursements for employees.
Concern about District 46's financial picture was expressed at Thursday's meeting by Kris Merritt of Platford Corp., which manages various properties in Grayslake.
"Quite honestly, what I'm hearing scares me," Merritt told the school board. "Tax increases, not a good idea. Businesses are going to be leaving your town. If taxes continue to go up, you're going in the wrong direction. Deficits are a terrible idea. If it starts falling down, it's like a rock, it's just going to go. It's going to break loose."
In addition to Surroz, board President Ray Millington and members Karen Weinert and Susan Facklam voted to adopt the budget. Michael Carbone joined Evans and Smigielski in rejecting the document.