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By MATT DANIELS
Rantoul Press assistant editor
The Rantoul City Schools district received more grim financial news recently.
RCS Superintendent Michelle Ramage informed the school board at its Thursday night meeting that cuts are likely looming in the district after the district found out its general state aid payments will be reduced to 80 percent for the 2013-14 school year.
Coupled with what the district received in state aid for the 2012-13 school year — which was prorated at 89 percent — Ramage said the district will have lost $1.7 million it usually receives from the state in the past two years.
Ramage said she would meet with Mark Mullen, a regional financial consultant from the Illinois State Board of Education, later this month to work on a three-year budget plan for the district.
“At the January board meeting we’ll have discussions about where we are going to cut to be able to stay in the black as best as we can,” Ramage said. “We’ve had very preliminary discussions with the teachers’ association to let them know tough times are ahead.”
On top of decreased state aid payments, the district will also take a financial hit with decreased assessed valuations (EAV) for another year. Ramage said the district is projecting an EAV of $123,706,782, but the likely EAV is at $108,556,600. Ramage recommended to the board the district increase its tax levy by 8.75 percent, and said the EAV levels now are on par with the EAV levels in 2007.
“The recommendation isn’t much different than what it has been the last couple of years,” Ramage said. “The biggest concern is that our EAV continues to decline.
Although this is a tentative tax levy and (the board) will make a decision in December, I doubt my recommendation will change much.”
The board will hold a truth-in-taxation hearing at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, prior to the board’s regularly scheduling meeting at 6:30 p.m.
“I doubt there’s any chance we’ll get anywhere close to that (recommendation),” Ramage said. “The reason that we do this is we don’t want to leave any money on the table. There has been some new growth, and if we don’t take advantage of that when it happens, it is forever lost. We need to make sure our projected tax levy is at least enough to gain what is on the table and what we need for our district.”
Last spring the district made $592,000 worth of cuts, mainly on curriculum and to the district’s construction budget. This time around, cuts could affect staff and district personnel.
“It’s so disheartening,” Ramage said. “We are looking at everything, but 80 percent of our budget is salaries, so that’s where the biggest areas are is personnel. All we’re trying to do is what’s best for the kids and provide them the education they need. We’re not going to be able to provide what we’ve been able to provide in the past. I feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. Taxpayers are frustrated because they have to pay more when their EAV is lowered. We don’t have anywhere else to turn after you do taxes and state (aid payments).”
Ramage said the district seeks out grants to help with costs and the donated items — like school supplies, reading materials and other items — the district received from area residents, organizations and businesses at the start of this school year were beneficial.
“We wouldn’t get (those things) if they didn’t donate, so we’re very thankful for that,” Ramage said, “but I’m gravely concerned. I don’t know how else to put it.”