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By MATT DANIELS
Rantoul Press assistant editor
By 2016, the Rantoul City Schools might have a budget deficit of more than $1 million.
When the PowerPoint presentation RCS Superintendent Michelle Ramage worked on flashed those numbers in red during the RCS December board meeting, board members sat in silence for the next few seconds, soaking in that realization.
“The depressing part is it’s happening all over the state,” board member Joan Fitzgarrald said. “It’s like watching businesses fail, (but) your schools can’t fail.”
Ramage said the three-year budget projection she worked on was designed to show board members and the public the tight financial conditions RCS is facing in the future.
The amended budget for the 2012-13 school year indicates RCS will have a deficit of $449,711 that could increase to $934,000 the next year, $937,000 the year after and $1.4 million for the 2015-16 school year.
“Obviously, we’re not going to allow this to happen,” Ramage said. “We will be looking at many different things to cut the budget and make sure that does not happen. We have some work ahead of us.”
Ramage said the district factored into its projected budget anticipated cuts of general state aid reduced to 80 percent, down from 89 percent the district is receiving this year. The district took into consideration that local tax dollars go up slightly each year and added in increases for salaries and insurance costs, but did not include increases for the teacher retirement system pensions, which the state has indicated will fall on the local school districts to pay for in the future.
Ramage said she has asked principals of the five schools in the district to have discussions with their staff about the current budget situation.
“During those discussions, we discovered there’s more information that people need from us,” Ramage said, indicating programs that might be funded by grants. “It’s real easy to say, ‘Oh, you should cut this.’”
Ramage said until 2011, the district’s expenditures did not exceed its revenues. Why did it in 2011?
Ramage said that was the year the district started experiencing reductions in its general state aid, along with hiring more bilingual staff and having increased special education needs as well.
“My concern is I want to make sure the public is aware we’ve been in good financial condition for many, many years,” Ramage said. “We knew this was coming, but it just happened very quickly and very drastically. Our expenditures have increased this year. In addition, we have huge cuts in state revenue.”
Ramage said the district had a 22 percent of its transportation revenue cut last year, and this year, the district anticipates a 50 percent cut in its transportation revenue.
The transportation fund and education fund are the two biggest district funds that are affected and bring about the most concern for Ramage.
Ramage said the education fund will have a projected deficit of $355,408, with $138,000 less in special education funds, $90,000 less in general state aid, $40,000 less in corporate replacement taxes, $39,000 less of a refund from the prior year’s expenditures and $6,000 less in textbook rental fees.
In the transportation fund, the district is estimating it will receive $76,000 less in local revenue and $63,000 less in state revenue.
Tax levy approved
The board approved 6-0, with board member Kevin Modglin absent, its tax levy, which asked for an 8.75 percent increase compared to last year’s levy.
No members of the public attended the truth-in-taxation hearing held prior to the meeting. If the 8.75 percent increase is realized, which it likely won’t be, the district would receive $4,589,704 from local property taxes. The district is expecting a 3.54 percent increase for a total levy of $4,369,729.
“We wanted to be sure to capture any new growth that there could be,” Ramage said. “The information from the county clerk’s office was that we had more growth than the year before. Last year, the growth we had was $32,190. This year, the county clerk’s office is listing the estimate as $565,920. If we don’t access that the first time, we lose that forever. That’s another reason for the 8.75 percent (increase request).”
Ramage said at the November board meeting that talks are expected to increase either at the January or February board meeting about possible cuts in the district, which could include personnel this year. Last year, the district made $592,000 worth of budget cuts, which came from not having certain curriculum, increasing class sizes in a few sections of the district and reducing its fund in the district’s site and construction budget.
Ramage said despite cuts in general state aid to the district, the district’s enrollment has increased, which has helped offset some of the difference.
“That hit hasn’t been as bad as it could have been,” she said.
Board President Saundra Uhlott said the increased enrollment presents a “catch-22” situation for the district.
“Having additional students means ... you have more teachers,” Uhlott said. “The more kids you get, the more your expenditures go up.”
Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Ernst said it’s important to note the district’s financial difficulties aren’t tied to an expenditure problem, but a lack of revenue is playing a major role in the current situation.
“This is where we start,” Ernst said. “This is where the work begins to figure out how to trim that (deficit) down, but those are big trims.”