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Indian Prairie looks foward despite a deficit for 2012

Updated: October 26, 2012 6:11AM

Indian Prairie School Board members knew last year’s budget was tight, but they didn’t expect to end with a $171,000 deficit.

“In the big scheme of things, it’s not a lot, but it’s deficit spending, and that is a concern that gives me pause,” board member Christine Vickers said during Monday evening’s 2013 budget hearing. Board members unanimously approved the fiscal year 2013 budget.

The district is expected to end the upcoming fiscal year $428,693 in the black, but that could change. Last year, the district expected to end the fiscal year with about a $130,000 surplus. Board members wanted to know on Monday what changed.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Jay Strang said that the district lunch program, higher-than-anticipated special education tuition costs, and an increase in homeless transportation were unexpected expenses that hindered the budget predictions.

Strang said the district lost about $500,000 in anticipated lunch receipts. It is something that Indian Prairie administrators have been looking at for some time now.

“I implore the district to look into the lunch program,” Vickers said. “The kids are not happy with the lunch offerings.”

Out-of-district special education tuition has increased almost 10 percent in two years and is up $311,000 over the last two years. The difficulty of predicting student needs, and the increase in tuition costs, have all taken a toll on the district budget.

Addressing homeless transportation costs is also being considered, Strang said.

“Homeless transportation was a huge surprise to me. We are working diligently to transport kids more effectively,” he said. The district now has 135 to 140 students who are being transported from within and outside the district as a result of state mandates.

Transporting even one family from far outside the district could be very costly, he said. In the past two years, homeless transportation costs have gone up 139 percent.

While the 2013 budget is balanced, Strang said administrators and board members need to keep a close eye on spending. The recession, a decreasing EAV, delayed state payments and unpaid mandates have all created financial hiccups.

“It is a tight budget, but it has been a tight budget for a couple of years now. We’ve been very successful in running on tight budgets,” he said. “But the most important this is that our students are really excelling.”

He compared the upcoming budget to buying $1,000 worth of groceries for $999, and every penny must be accounted for. More than $9.4 million in cuts have been slated for the upcoming fiscal year in the form of line-item cuts and unpaid state mandates the district must provide. Even so, Strang said that the district has the best pupil-to-administrator ratio in the county, and the lowest operating expenditure per pupil: 25.3 percent less than other unit districts in DuPage County.

The district has maintained a fund balance of 35.5 percent, which exceeds its goal of 25 percent. Other board goals, including keeping Aa2 Moody’s Investment Service rating, and maintaining a bonding capacity over a 50 percent debt margin, are all being met or exceeded.

“We don’t have any wiggle room in the budget to go over any line item, but there is plenty to celebrate,” Strang said.

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