A little more than a month away from presenting a final budget for public viewing, the District 95 Board of Education is looking at a bottom line deficit that goes beyond the bond money it has already set aside to cover budget shortfalls.
Superintendent Dr. Douglas Rudig presented a third draft budget to the board last week that estimated an overall deficit of $640,000 for next year. This goes above the $600,000 mark the district had planned for last year, when it took out $3.6 million in bonds to be spread out over five years.
Rudig stressed that this was not the final version of the budget, which will not be voted on by the board until September. By law, the district’s budget must be put on public display for 30 days before the board accepts it. Therefore, Rudig said, he would be working to tighten and refine the numbers, possibly shaving off the extra $40,000, before that point.
However, at a school board meeting July 14, many board members expressed concern that the district may already be overspending its bond money.
“Right now we have bonded money – which is basically borrowed money – that we are drawing down for this,” board member Tom Powers said. “We are spending more right now than our long-term debt can cover.”
Board Vice President John LaBarbera agreed, saying that the district’s financial state is well below that of other neighboring school districts.
“There are other districts who are writing in the papers about how a balanced budget is a crisis for them,” he said. “We’re well beyond that.”
If the final budget deficit is above $600,000, Rudig said the district faces three options.
First, the district could go out for another referendum to raise revenue. The district attempted to pass a referendum in April, which Rudig said was the first referendum the district proposed in 20 years, but it did not pass.
Other options include extending the bonds over a longer time period. Rudig said that would not be a recommended financial strategy, particularly to cover regular expenses. Finally, as a last, drastic move, Rudig said the district may eventually have to look at cutting back on academic programs.
At the July 14 meeting, it appeared that a few board members were already looking at the possibility of going out for another referendum to alleviate these budget problems.
“We’re at the point where the community needs to understand that if they want to continue what they have now, if they want to maintain our curriculum, they need to be willing to support it,” said Jim Landahl, board president.
As a testament to the quality of this curriculum, Rudig highlighted the district’s most recent standardized test score results. In 2004, students in the district scored well above national averages on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a nationally normed standardized test. The national average on the ITBS was 77 percent; the district’s average scores ranged from 87 to 95 percent.