The District 208 Board of Education adopted a 2010-11 budget calling for $21.5 million of operations spending and $19.3 million in revenue. I understand the concern about the resulting $2.2 million deficit. I would like to explain why I voted in favor of adoption of the budget.
A deficit this year does not indicate that the district is spending money it doesn’t have. You have already given us the resources we need to support this plan, not only through your property taxes, but also through state, federal and other funding and proceeds from our past sale of working cash bonds.
The district last received an operating funds rate increase in 2000. We have been able to make that 2000 increase stretch to 2010 without asking for another, but for years now our projections have shown that it would soon be necessary to ask the voters for a rate increase to preserve our educational program quality.
While it reflects prudent management by our staff and past boards and has been a boon to taxpayers, I fear that going so long without a referendum has disconnected voters from their right and duty to think seriously about and vote on their financial support of RB.
The need to show financial responsibility to earn referendum support influenced this year’s budget discussions from the start. Early on, I believed the best way to demonstrate responsibility was to balance the budget, which at that point had a projected deficit of $1.7 million. The district spends almost 80 percent of our budget on salaries and benefits. Eliminating the deficit would have required deep staffing cuts. The consequences for our students would have included larger classes, fewer courses and reduced extracurriculars.
Interim Superintendent Dr. David Bonnette noted that while this would have left the district with more money at the end of the year, the board would have imposed a year of diminished educational programs on our students without seeking real community input. He proposed that instead we consider continuing our high-quality program using resources already on hand, and placing the referendum question on RB’s future support before the voters.
I was convinced that the community deserves to determine the future funding and quality of our programs, not just the seven members of the board. The debate over RB’s future is one that you should carry on with your friends and neighbors and in the pages of your local papers.
The board has now resolved to place the operating funds tax rate referendum on the ballot for the consolidated election on April 5, 2011. Regardless of the referendum’s outcome, I am confident that the board will respond promptly with a plan for the future beyond 2010-11 that fits within the financial boundaries the voters have set.
My vote in favor of the adoption of the 2010-11 budget was a vote not to surrender before the fight is over, to instead continue building on RB’s recent success and provide the best education we can this year for our students. I am grateful to the citizens of District 208 for the financial support that has made this possible.
James Marciniak is board president of Riverside-Brookfield Township High School District 208.