D65: Good news, but don’t hold your breath

As promised, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy presented projections for a balanced budget for the district for the next two fiscal years at the board’s Finance Committee meeting Monday night, but he and committee chair Andrew Pigozzi warned that these are just projections and are subject to change.

Nevertheless, the figures presented showed a dramatic change in the outlook for the district’s finances, when compared to projections given to a special ad hoc citizens budget committee last September.

Instead of a deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year of $3.3 million, the new projections show a net return to surplus of $1.2 million. And for the following year, a projected deficit as of Sept. 14 of $4.1 million became a net surplus today of $1.9 million.

District comptroller Kathy Zalewski  explained that most of the revisions involved savings in salaries and benefits and in the purchase of services and supplies.

She projected that salary expenditures would decrease by about 3 percent, due to a larger number of retirements than expected, which would result in rehires at lower salaries, and through “attrition” due to academic support positions funded with federal stimulus dollars that would be eliminated when the funding runs out.

The district is planning to reduce non-personnel expense by a total of $1.5 million in FY13 and $2.4 million in FY14,  through what the administration referred to as “budget balancing strategies,” such as prepaying for some supplies and services with money left over in the current year’s budget, which is expected to end about $850,000 in the black.

Committee member Tracy Quattrocki expressed some skepticism about the turnaround and said she hoped the reduction of academic support positions would not have an adverse effect on the classroom teachers. Murphy responded that the differences would be minimal.

As the budget discussions concluded, Chairman Pigozzi warned that “budgets are fluid; they are projections, and the surpluses we are looking at today could be eroded in the future by something we could not foresee.”

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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