St. Charles schools budget awaits state education funding decisions

  • Haines Middle School is the smallest of St. Charles Unit District 303's three middle schools. It might be closed to address a declining enrollment trend and save money.

    Haines Middle School is the smallest of St. Charles Unit District 303's three middle schools. It might be closed to address a declining enrollment trend and save money. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 5/31/2016 3:54 PM

Education funding negotiations between state lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner will be a big financial lever in the budget for the 2016-17 school year in St. Charles.

Millions of dollars are on the line for the district even as it prepares to ask local taxpayers for more money.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

St. Charles school board members recently received their first look at a new budget for District 303. The budget forecasts $1.2 million in lost state funds. Rauner's latest education budget promises no district will receive less money than last year. State lawmakers have yet to embrace the plan.

St. Charles schools could use that $1.2 million. Without it, the district's overall income will increase by only 0.64 percent. Local property taxes account for about 78 percent of the district's income. That's a slight increase from last year thanks to the projected loss of state dollars.

"Clearly, we don't know what's going to happen in Springfield," said Seth Chapman, the district's chief financial officer. "Anything can happen in the future, but most of the things being discussed would adversely impact District 303."

The funding loss will also contribute to an increase in district spending outpacing that small income growth. Spending costs will rise 1.11 percent. Salary costs account for 73 percent of the district's spending. Those costs will be affected by a 3.5 percent raise for the district's teachers.

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School board members have sent repeated messages to the district staff about keeping expenses lean. They have pushed to keep the district's annual tax levy from increasing by more than 2 percent in any given year.

That push, along with declining enrollment projections and state budget uncertainty, has fueled a plan to close Haines Middle School. The closure would save the district about $2 million a year going forward. To realize those long-term savings, the district must enhance the remaining two middle schools, including potentially rebuilding Thompson Middle School.

The district does not have the construction money to fund those costs without a tax increase. A referendum request to voters may be as large as $35 million.

The district will have about $68.3 million in operational savings at the end of 2016. But operating funds and construction funds can't be intermingled.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For local taxpayers, it's all the same tax bill. That bill is set to fall by several hundred dollars for most district residents in 2018. The district will retire long-standing bond debt at that point. Even if voters approve new borrowing for the middle school construction, tax bills would still fall, but they would fall by a lesser amount.

All that makes the pending education funding decisions by state lawmakers key facets for the district's upcoming budget year. Getting back the $1.2 million the district expected to lose would be help ease all the financial pressures to keep taxes as low as possible at a time when the district is poised to ask for more.

Illinois has gone almost an entire fiscal year without a budget. St. Charles school board members will vote on its new budget in September.

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