Columbia, Valmeyer schools approve budgets

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The Columbia and Valmeyer school boards approved fiscal year budgets as state funding woes continue to cause headaches.

The Columbia School Board approved a balanced budget for the 2015-16 school year at its monthly meeting on Thursday.

In the education fund, the district is projected to overspend by $307,478. After revenues are accounted for, however, the overall deficit spending in the operating funds — education, operations and maintenance, transportation and working cash — is $233,409.

The education fund deficit included a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Teachers’ Retirement System for a teacher who exercised an early retirement option. Also, there was an unexpected decline in local equalized assessed valuation — property taxes — and a drop in state aid.

“It is hopeful that this deficit spending is short term, for when the state of Illinois fulfills school funding obligations and the local EAV returns to a positive, the school district should be able to operate within the revenue means,” superintendent Dr. Gina Segobiano said. “Luckily, the district has spent cautiously over the years which has resulted in a year-end surplus in the education fund.  The reserves will cover any deficit spending for this fiscal year.”

As of July, the district has $9,327,519 spread out over nine separate accounts. Although that may sound like a large number, the district can’t spend that money freely. For example, the transportation fund currently has $1,894,553. That money can only be used for transportation.

“Due to conservative spending, the district is financially on solid ground with reserves available to cover state shortfalls,” Segobiano said. “We are in good financial standing compared to many districts in the state.”

Also at the meeting, the school board hired David Jackson as an Eagleview lunchroom monitor and Justin Lilly as a seasonal grounds keeper. It accepted the resignations of Columbia High School girls soccer head coach Steve Ross and CHS bowling head coach Bruce Jeffery. The district is in search of new coaches to fill those vacancies.

The board also approved a contract from D.E. Martin Roofing Company to replace shingles at the CHS canopy entrance with a metal roofing system, which will cost $19,450.

The Valmeyer School Board approved its budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year on Monday.

The district is projecting to overspend by $316,985 for the upcoming year in operating funds.

Superintendent Eric Frankford explained that the projection is in line with the district’s five-year plan.

“Yes, we are deficit spending roughly $300,000, but that was our plan four years ago,” Frankford said.

Four years ago, the Valmeyer School District asked voters to approve a $1.5 million bond over five years, which equates to $300,000 a year. The district needed the money because it is the only school district that can’t levy to maximum tax rates in the metro east.

“The reason why we sold bonds was two-fold,” Frankford explained. “One, the voters expressed they didn’t want to have a permanent tax increase. In other words, after the bonds are paid off, the tax rate goes back down. The other reason, for every dollar raised in local funds, you’re giving back about 70 percent to the state. The state has, in its general state aid formula, a local share, or the local ability to raise funds. So, you have to be careful when you raise property taxes that you don’t end up losing that back in a loss — the state funding.”

However, the district is running behind on paying that bond back. An unexpected cost popped up in the past year. The district had to replace the roof over the high school gym for about $130,000. So, the district is behind in paying back the bond by about $67,000.

Valmeyer is also cutting costs anywhere they can. In 2008, the district budget stood at around $4.5 million.

This year, the budget is set at about $3.9 million. In the past seven years, the district has cut roughly $550,000.

The price of doing business doesn’t stay the same, either. It only goes up, so, with a projected two percent increase based on the 2008 budget, the district would be spending $5.3 million. But, as already stated, they are spending $3.9 million.

“It’s part of a plan, a long-range plan,” Frankford said. “That five years is almost up. We will be running a referendum again in March, to extend it another five years because the community expressed to us that it was a temporary tax increase and if it was still an issue in five years, they get to vote again. They will have the opportunity to do that in March.”

Part of the reason why the district has had to cut money is because it is receiving less money in state and federal aid. Valmeyer received almost $2 million in aid in 2009. This past year, it received $1.2 million in aid for educational spending.

“There is still a need, the need hasn’t changed from when we ran the referendum,” Frankford said. “The need is still there and the reasons for it are still there. We’re abiding by the voters’ wishes by not making it a permanent tax increase, but every five years, if the conditions are the same, they get a chance to re-approve what we are doing.”

Also in March, voters in Monroe County could approve a 1 percent county-wide facility sales tax. Frankford said that money would certainly help the district. Instead of worrying about a $130,000 roof, Valmeyer could focus its efforts on education spending. Since the state remains in a budget impasse, the district has already lost a $50,000 maintenance grant.

“Those are items that would be paid for off the 1 percent sales tax,” Frankford said.  “So, that would allow us to, instead of spending money on a roof, carpet and repairs to the building, we could spend that money in the classroom. So, it’s kind of a two-fold plan this March. We haven’t really started, but its going to be a community effort.”

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