The good news: the Riverside-Brookfield High School operating budget deficit has been cut almost in half. The bad news: the operating deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year is still projected to be almost $1 million.

Last week the District 208 school board unanimously approved its 2011-12 budget, which forecasts an operating deficit of $920,079. Last year RBHS finished with an operating deficit of $1,835,131 after an initial forecast of a deficit of around $2.2 million.

The budget deficits are being covered by reserve funds. At the end of the fiscal year it is forecast that reserves will amount to 23.5 percent of the operating budget, surpassing the board’s goal of having a 20-percent fund balance this year. Ideally, school districts like to have a 33 percent fund balance.

“I think the key thing is that we had to hit a 20-percent fund balance,” said District 208 school board President Matt Sinde.

The $920,079 operating deficit is an increase of about $140,000 from what was projected in the tentative budget approved in August. The increase in the deficit came about primarily because of increased personnel costs, said District 208 Interim Chief Financial Officer Tim McGinnis.

“We had some paraprofessionals that we had to bring in for some special ed students,” McGinnis said. “Most of it was additional personnel that we had to hire that we didn’t know about on Aug. 9.”

The board also hired a part-time science teacher and a part-time social science teacher to staff additional class sections based on registration, McGinnis said.

The budget forecasts total operating expenditures of $20.8 million and total operating revenues of $19.9 million.

Cuts accounted for a good chunk of the reduced deficit.

According to the budget, staff reductions reduced salaries by $1.24 million from last year. The athletic budget was cut by $161,811. The budget for extracurricular activities and club stipends was cut by $127,754, and the budget for other stipends was reduced by $326,022.

Early retirement penalties paid to the Teachers Retirement System cost the district $362,144, and the cost of tax anticipation warrants is projected to be $14,660. The district expects to issue tax anticipation warrants, a form of short-term borrowing, this fall to pay bills until fall property tax revenue starts rolling in. If the district had greater reserves, it would not have to issue the tax anticipation warrants.

General state aid decreased by 23 percent and the expiration of the federal American Reconstruction and Recovery Act meant that the district did not receive the $169,490 it received from the federal economic stimulus bill last year. The district had to transfer $125,000 from the working cash fund to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), a fund that pays into the pension system for non certified staff, to cover a shortfall there.

Real estate tax revenue is expected to increase by 5.8 percent or $952,262 this year. The pay-to-participate fee for athletics is expected to raise $66,660, and the increase in the basic registration fee netted about $25,000 in additional revenue.

The school board spent the summer examining various aspects of the budget and some members, especially the four new members elected in April, struggled to understand what they saw as sometimes conflicting and inconsistent information. It didn’t help that a new superintendent and new financial officer had to try and explain a budget that was mostly prepared by their predecessors.

New District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said that he hoped the budget process will be smoother next year.

“I feel confident that the budgeting process has improved,” Skinkis said. “I think it will be a little more efficient next year once Tim [McGinnis] and I are on full time and have the opportunity to build the budget ourselves.

“Remember the majority of this budget was built by [former interim superintendent] Dave [Bonnette] and [former business manager] Chris [Whelton]. I’m looking forward to next year when Tim and I and the board of education can build a budget from scratch.”