Glen Ellyn District 89 to tackle school finances, enrollment growth

 
 
Updated 5/22/2018 10:32 AM
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  • Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89 Superintendent Emily Tammaru, right, and school board President Beth Powers will lead three community forums about the district's long-term financial picture. The first meeting is Tuesday, June 5.

      Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89 Superintendent Emily Tammaru, right, and school board President Beth Powers will lead three community forums about the district's long-term financial picture. The first meeting is Tuesday, June 5. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Faced with persistent budget deficits and a jump in student enrollment, Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89 is launching a series of community meetings about the state of school finances.

Superintendent Emily Tammaru and school board members will hold three forums next month as part of a new "Our 89" community engagement plan.

Such campaigns often set the stage for districts seeking property tax increases. The last time District 89 voters approved an operating tax rate increase was in 1986.

But Tammaru and school board President Beth Powers insist all options are on the table and they want to hear from residents about steps to shrink the annual deficits and put the district on firmer financial footing.

"We have been working diligently since the middle of March to really get an engagement plan together, a comprehensive plan so we can hear from the community about what they want in their schools, what they value in their schools and really to offer them an opportunity to be actively engaged in it," Tammaru said.

Financial planners expect the district to post a $750,422 deficit in the operating budget and, factoring debt, a $1,068,501 deficit overall for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Reserves will cover the shortfall. As a result, end-of-year fund balances are on track to fall from $14.2 million last fiscal year to $13.2 million.

If nothing changes, long-term projections show five consecutive years of annual budget deficits. The operating budget shortfall could top $1.1 million by the end of fiscal 2022.

But the district's finance committee, a group of parents, taxpayers and educators that reconvened last year, made a recommendation in March to end the deficit spending and provided two options for the board to consider.

"One option would be to increase revenue to be able to maintain the programming we currently have and the second option would be to reduce spending through the reduction and/or elimination of some of our programs," Tammaru said. She said it would be premature to flesh out details of a preliminary list of possible cuts without first gathering community input.

In 2011, the last time the finance committee was meeting, the district began a similar process that led to greater belt-tightening.

"They really wanted us to look at all of our systems and find efficiencies and reduce as we could, and we did," Tammaru said. "They were pretty adamant in 2011 to say, 'please reduce spending where you can but please don't change the programming in the classrooms.'"

The district made nearly $3 million in budget reductions from 2009 to 2016, officials say, but largely avoided impactful cuts.

"When we talked about this in 2011, our enrollment had been on a steady decline," Tammaru said. "Our reductions came honestly from some efficiencies with not replacing retirements because enrollment was going down."

But that trend has reversed: The district has added 174 students since the 2010-11 school year. The associated costs are a "significant contributing factor" to the deficits, Tammaru said. Officials also cite rising costs related to insurance and transportation.

District demographer John Kasarda has estimated enrollment could reach 2,457 students in the 2021-22 school year -- or 600 more from a low point in 2012-13.

"Our highest enrollment in district history was in the mid-1970s, and it was only a couple hundred students more than where we're projected to be," Tammaru said. "We will be at the highest point that any of us working here, even our long-standing teachers, will have seen."

In the immediate future, the district is hiring three additional elementary classroom teachers for the 2018-19 school year due to enrollment growth.

With the "Our 89" meetings, officials will give an overview of that enrollment and financial picture, and residents will break into small groups during the first session June 15. The district will continue to collect feedback at the next two meetings and then conduct an online and phone survey of residents.

Powers said the school board should receive a report on the survey data and meetings in July or August.

"We will go forward with whatever the feedback is," she said. "It is a board decision, but it's a community decision. It's our schools, and that's why we want the feedback. We want to hear what people want us to do."

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