Last week the Riverside-Brookfield District 208 school board unanimously approved a tentative budget that projects a surplus of a little less than $200,000 next year. Whether that surplus actually materializes is another question, however, as the biggest variable in the budget — the cost of paying staff — has yet to be determined.

Negotiations continue with the teachers union on a new contract to replace a five-year deal that expired on June 30.

Originally, the budget projected a surplus of $205,000, but that was reduced by two school board votes at the July 9 board meeting. The projected surplus was reduced by about $16,000 when the school board voted 6 to 1 to change the school’s pay-to-play fee for sports.

Under the new policy athletes will pay a reduced fee for the second and third sports teams they are on during a school year. The school board also voted to hire a part-time credit recovery staff member to aid students who are struggling to graduate.

Results for the 2012-13 budget have not been finalized yet, but District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said that he expects the final accounting will show a surplus of about $200,000.

The tentative 2013-14 budget includes money for an increase of 3.3 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, including hiring an additional full-time special education teacher. This addition in the teaching staff reverses a trend of cutting teaching positions at RB.

The tentative budget assumes that all teachers advance one year on the existing salary schedule, but assumes no increase in base pay. Employee costs usually account for around 75 percent of the expenditures of a school district.

Skinkis acknowledged it is difficult to plan a budget when you don’t know the costs of your biggest expense — your staff. But Skinkis was proud of the document, saying that it was a product of hard work and sacrifice by all the stakeholders in the district.

“Although this is very positive, we still have work to do,” Skinkis said at the July 9 meeting. “We’ve made some improvements in finances, but we’re not financially sound just yet. I think we have a very solid budget here, and I think we’ve made some significant changes and improvements to help us get to where we are.”

The budget includes $120,000 to address the repair of roof sections that have been leaking. The roof over the older portions of the building was not replaced during the renovation a few years ago. Total capital repairs are estimated to be about $200,000.

The tentative budget also includes $100,000 to improve the school’s technology infrastructure.

In addition to hiring an additional full-time special education teacher, two positions — a behavior intervention specialist and a special education transition specialist — will be increased from part time to full time.

“It is great to finally see a budget that is not based on cuts or reductions,” said school board President Matt Sinde in a press release issued by the district. “It reflects the hard work of Dr. Skinkis and his staff to get the district’s operations and finances where they are today.”

Skinkis has taken a number of steps to save money in his two years at the helm.

A year ago the district joined a health insurance cooperative instead of self-insuring. In 2013-14, insurance costs will decrease by $71,000 according to the tentative budget. Unlike past years, the district is paying no early retirement penalties to the Teacher Retirement System, saving $182,000 compared to last year, when the district encouraged four veteran teachers to retire early.

A big savings in the budget is that working cash bonds the district took out in 2008 have been paid off, resulting in a savings of $924,000 in debt service payments. Although general state aid is projected to drop by $81,000, the state reimbursements for special education will nearly quadruple to $419,000 as the state pays past due bills.

State reimbursements for transportation are projected to increase from $75,000 to $200,000 as a result of additional payments from the state.

In its initial form the tentative budget projected operating revenues of $20,811,216 and operating expenditures of $20,605,452.

“While this budget is great news, the next task is to sustain this type of budget and operation moving forward while meeting the educational needs of our students and the capital needs of the district,” Skinkis said in the press release. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

The final budget is expected to be approved at the school board’s Sept. 10 meeting. The tentative budget is now on public display and can be viewed in person at the RBHS business office or online at the school’s website.