Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 unexpectedly ended the 2011-12 fiscal year on June 30 with an operating surplus of more than $300,000.

The surplus, pegged at $333,158, was a surprise, because the budget had initially forecast a $920,000 operating deficit when it was approved last September.

One big contribution to the swing from deficit to surplus may be short-lived, though. Property tax refunds, primarily from appeals from large commercial property owners, came in at $340,000 less than expected. Two major property tax appeal cases – from Sears and the North Riverside Park Mall – have yet to be resolved, so RBHS may take a hit this year when those rulings are finalized.

While noting that the property tax refund savings may be temporary, District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis was happy to finish his first year on the job with a surplus rather than a deficit.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” Skinkis said. “I think we’ve gotten our spending under control. I still think we were fortunate that some of those property tax appeals and utilities came in under budget. That’s a positive sign, but we still have work to do financially to have the district be fiscally sound.”

Another big contributor to the swing from deficit to surplus was that the district’s education fund expenditures came in $321,000 under budget. How that happened is not yet clear.

“That’s something I’m in the process of going through and analyzing right now,” said District 208 Chief Financial Officer Tim McGinnis.

Categorical state aid, primarily for special education expenses and transportation, came in $261,000 higher than budgeted. Utility costs were $148,000 less than budgeted.

The school received $115,000 in federal stimulus money last year that had been due, but not paid, the year before. The school also took in $46,000 more than budgeted in building rentals, resulting from a hike in rental rates and a change in the policy regarding the rental of school space to outside groups.

The new pay-to-participate fee for athletics and a hike in the basic registration fee also brought in about $27,000 more than expected.

Tax receipts actually came in at $169,000 less than expected, but that was offset by other revenue gains and unexpected reduction in expenses.

At the July 10 school board meeting school board member Tim Walsh, while welcoming the good budget news, expressed concerns that the final results were so far off from the original budget projections.

Skinkis noted that the bulk of last year’s budget was prepared before he and McGinnis arrived in the district on July 1, 2011.

“I think part of that is that Tim and I took over on July 1 and that the majority of the tentative budget was prepared by the previous business manager,” Skinkis.

RBHS’ former business manager, Chris Whelton, said that he budgeted conservatively and that he was happy to hear that District 208 finished with a surplus.

“It’s good news for the school district,” said Whelton, who is now an assistant superintendent for finance at Elmhurst Unit School District 205.

On July 10 meeting the school board unanimously approved a tentative budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The budget anticipates an operating deficit of around $204,000. The tentative budget can be viewed on the school’s website or in the business office. The final budget will be voted on at the school board’s Sept. 11 meeting.

Skinkis and McGinnis said that some numbers are still changing in the 2012-13 budget as more information about levels of state aid and other factors are resolved. Skinkis said that he expects the district to run an operating deficit of between $200,000 to $250,000 in the new fiscal year.

That’s a far cry from the $1.6 to $1.9 million operating deficit that was forecast about six months ago before the school board approved a series of fee increases and budget cuts, including the early retirement of four highly paid teachers.

“I think we’ve done an outstanding job in the last months to get this far, to get this budget where it is,” said Welch. “The community should be very happy that we’ve done what we’ve done.”

The tentative budget projects a fund balance in the education fund, which pays for day-to-day operating expenses, of 29.9 percent – well above what the board once thought it could achieve.

Walsh said that he was happy about that, but said he was concerned about the effects of budget cuts on academics and student performance.

“This is one goal,” Walsh said of the fund balance. “We need to see how all these other goals [play out], how the ACT scores were.”

School board President Matt Sinde said that he was happy with the tentative budget.

“I think that the budget right now is financially responsible,” Sinde said.