Dist. 204 fears possible state funding shortfall

Indian Prairie School Board members go over the fiscal year 2015 budget on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. The budget hinges on state funding, which board members fear they could lose in the upcoming year.  |  Suzanne Baker  ~  Sun-Times Media
Indian Prairie School Board members go over the fiscal year 2015 budget on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. The budget hinges on state funding, which board members fear they could lose in the upcoming year. | Suzanne Baker ~ Sun-Times Media

While the budget picture for Indian Prairie School District 204 appears rosy from a document perspective, the reality of fickle state funding looms large on the horizon.

District 204’s fiscal year 2015 balanced budget draft includes not only $3.7 million to partially air condition district elementary schools, but will provide $3.5 million in capital improvements to aging buildings and continue the district’s effort to add $2.5 million in technology improvements.

If funding continues as projected, the district could end with a 31 percent fund balance, according to Jay Strang, the district’s chief school business official.

District 204 is projecting total expenditures of $309.9 million coupled with revenues of $311.1 million for 2015.

The School Board will host a public hearing on the budget Sept. 22 before it is approved. The budget then will be used to create the levy, the amount taxing bodies ask the county clerk to collect from taxpayers. The levy must be filed before the end of the school year.

As with every year, what remains a mystery is the amount of state funding District 204 will receive. Roughly 14 percent of revenue in Indian Prairie’s education fund — the money used to pay teacher salaries and benefits, and services and supplies used to teach students — comes from the state. For fiscal year 2015, the amount is estimated at $36 million.

But funding from the state is not a done deal. With initiatives such as Senate Bill 16 picking up steam, Indian Prairie school officials are a bit on edge.

Known as the School Funding Reform Act of 2014, it creates a formula that is to provide a means to distribute education funds to Illinois school districts. Districts would receive a basic level based on the value of property in the district and additional funding would be provided for low-income students; English Language Learners; special and gifted education; summer school; special education, vocational and regular transportation; Career Pathways career development programs; and students taking AP/dual credit courses.

Strang said Indian Prairie stands to lose $10 million — $2.5 million each year for four years — if the bill passes.

While District 204 ranks among the top districts in the state to lose the most total revenue under the proposal, other local districts in Aurora would gain under the bill.

“There are winners and there are losers,” Strang said. “So it’s not an adequacy question, and it’s not an equity question.”

School Board President Lori Price said with winner and loser school districts in the same legislative district, many local lawmakers are in a bind as to where their support will go.

“Can we depend on them to advocate for us?” Price asked. “We can’t have this put on the back of the taxpayer … It angers me that we are in this position. Education is held hostage.”

School Board member Mark Rising also raised concerns about how District 204 might make up the loss in state funding.

“Are they expecting our taxpayers are going to pick up the cost?” Rising asked. “I wonder if our community should speak out against this.”

Price said Indian Prairie will be working with Naperville School District 203 to come up with ways to get out the word and advocate against Senate Bill 16.

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