Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

October 5, 2012

Unit 50 may face cuts

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

TEUTOPOLIS — Teutopolis school officials aren’t quite ready to ask Unit 50 residents for suggestions on how to fill a projected $1 million-plus budget hold for the 2013-14 school year.

    But at a special Unit 50 Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Bill Fritcher outlined both the problem and the options.

    It’s not a pretty picture, Fritcher said. “We won’t come up with anything that won’t hurt kids.”

    Fritcher said if nothing is done, education fund reserves will be depleted by the end of the 2013-14 school year. He said there are three primary options:

    • Cutting extra-curricular programs, including athletics, after-school tutorials and teaching and non-teaching positions.

    • Raising local property taxes to make up part of the shortfall.

    • Selling working cash bonds as a short-term budget fix.

    A fourth option would be to close the junior high school and move those students into either the grade or high schools.

    Because the district is raising all it legally can for each fund, either raising property tax rates or selling bonds would have to be approved by Unit 50 voters.

    Board president Marty Siemer said just because something is an option, it doesn’t mean the board will approve.

    “We are not advocating higher taxes or working cash bonds,” Siemer said. “But, we do want the people to know that’s an option.”

    Fritcher said a hike in property taxes going into the education fund — the largest fund in any school district — could cut the projected deficit in half, or more. He said an increase from the current level of $1.84 to $2.25 per $100 equalized assessed valuation would raise about $428,000, while an increase to $2.50 per $100 would raise about $684,000.

    Fritcher said a hike to $2.25 per $100 would add about $137 per year to the tax bill for property valued at $100,000, while the hike to $2.50 would add about $220.

    “We would only increase taxes to fill the budget deficit,” he said.

    Fritcher said the district has done a great job in holding costs down despite a consistent enrollment decline over the last decade. But,  he said, it’s just not enough.

    “The issue is revenue, not expenditures,” he said.

    Fritcher said the district has lost $1.5 million in revenue during the past two years alone. Declining enrollment has caused a corresponding drop in per-capita state aid. Moreover, the state’s budget issues have caused officials to prorate the amount of state aid school districts receive. The proration was 95 percent during the 2011-12 school year and is projected to be 89 percent this year.

    Board member Leah Passalacqua urged the board to tread lightly before cutting student programs.

    “We need to know what percentage of the budget those programs affect,” Passalacqua said. “We can lose a lot of opportunities for our students without affecting the budget that much.”

    “Any of these cuts would hurt the kids,” Fritcher said. “What we’re tasked with is finding the things that would hurt the least.”

    Fritcher said he would work on a survey for public release. He did not think a final survey would be ready in time for the board’s Oct. 15 meeting, however.