While anticipating a budget increase of seven percent for the coming school year, the Evanston District 65 school board acknowledged Monday night that it needs to consider how to start cutting future budgets.
The tentative 2018-19 budget projects a 7 percent increase in expenses, with a 1 percent increase in enrollment.
A significant portion of the increase is the result of additional staffing — 19.5 new positions for this year as well as some positions that weren’t filled in the previous year.
Some of those positions were outlined in the referendum passed in April 2017, specifically to support instructional technology in the middle schools and literacy interventions for struggling students. Others are the result of increased enrollment in the middle schools.
Finance Committee Chair Candance Chow said, “A budget increase of 7 percent with only a 1 percent increase in enrollment doesn’t seem like good financial stewardship.”
“We’re making investments for the future,” she added and said they need to explain that in community meetings about the budget.
A much larger issue is the structural deficit. The district’s policy is to maintain a fund balance of 30 percent of its operating budget.
The district gets $14.5 million each year from the referendum voters approved last year. In an April 24, 2017 resolution, the board voted to use all of the money from the referendum “for the purpose of eliminating the projected budget deficits without diminishing the district’s fund balances.”
The administration’s financial projections for FY19 through FY 25 indicate that the rate of spending will increase faster than the rate of revenue and the district will have used up the referendum money by the 2024-25 school year.
To address that problem, the administration plans to “realign the district’s spending to its priorities” for both positions and programs and “away from programs that do not support its priorities,” said Kathy Zalewski, District 65 business manager.
To that end, the administration will “develop new budget policies that will scrutinize new positions and programs for their instructional value,” she said.
“It is the board’s role to establish new budget policies,” said board member Joseph Hailpern. “That’s a great goal, but it’s a heavy conversation.”
“It’s a several year process,” said Superintendent Paul Goren.” We need to get started in the next two years because 2021-22 is the first year when the revenue is too low. We need to determine how we value programs and where we trade off between them.”
“That’s such an important goal we need to start as quickly as possible,” board member Lindsay Cohen said. “We should have a conversation with the union on how to approach it.”
Board member Rebeca Mendoza suggested doing a survey similar to what the City of Evanston did as part of its budget process. “At the time of the referendum, some in the community said they didn’t have a say about what would be cut.”
“If we want community engagement,” Hailpern added. “How do we want to engage it? What does it look like? There is a long runway. There’s time for turbulence.”
Meg Krulee, president of the D65 Educators’ Council, focused on a different angle. “What is ‘instructional value?’ How is it defined? By whom? There must be a shared understanding that includes all stakeholders.”
“Instructional value means that all students perform at the highest level,” Goren said. “We want to help students who are striving to achieve the levels of successful students.”
“Class size is a very big question as we move forward,” he added. “It was part of the referendum. In addition, we need to perhaps reconsider our approach to pre-K and kindergarten as well as literacy.”
Community budget presentations will be held Sept. 4, 5 and 6. A public hearing and budget adoption by the board is scheduled for Sept. 24.