Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 is in much better financial shape as a result of its new teachers’ contract, a consultant told the District 208 school board last month, but operating deficits are projected after a surplus this year.

The former teachers’ contract was financially unsustainable over the long term due to step increases Howard Crouse, a vice-president for the PMA Financial Network told the District 208 at the school board’s Committee of the Whole Meeting on Feb. 25, when he delivered a five-year financial planning report to the school board.

“My review of the current contract is that you have gone very, very far in correcting that, changing that,” Crouse said. “I don’t know if correcting is the appropriate word, but certainly in changing that to a salary schedule that is far more sustainable over a period of time under the tax cap than what you had.”

The new three-year teachers’ contract that was signed in December doesn’t eliminate step increases, but it provides for only step increases this year. There’s no increase in pay next year for teachers. Step increases and an increase in base pay in the final year of the contract are tied to a percentage of the Consumer Price Index. 

Crouse told the school board that he is projecting that District 208 will finish the current fiscal year with an operating surplus of $180,850. Although he is projecting operating deficits, after that he said that the district’s financial outlook is much improved.

“It is a considerably better position than we’ve had the last few years in no small part because of the contract,” Crouse said. 

After this year Crouse is projecting a series of operating deficits between $210,000 and $760,000 over the next fiscal five years. 

District 208 recently received $8.9 million in cash from the state Capital Development Board, grant money it applied for more than a decade ago. Although some of that money will be spent on capital improvements, it also could provide the district with a welcome cash cushion.

There are no limitations on how the district can spend the $8.9 million.

“You can do absolutely anything,” Crouse said.

It is anticipated that a substantial chunk of the $8.9 million will be used for improvements to the school’s physical plant, including new bleachers at the football stadium and repairs or replacement of the decaying locker room building at the stadium. New tennis courts are also needed, but some of the $8.9 million can be used for operating and educational expenses if the school board decides to do so.

According to Crouse’s report, salaries and benefits make up 75.1 percent of the district’s operating expenditures. The district receives 84.5 percent of its revenues from local property taxes.

Superintendent Kevin Skinkis is proposing adding nearly full-time four teaching spots to the faculty at RBHS next year, recommending an increase to 93.6 full time equivalent positions from the current 89.7.

Freshmen classes in English, math, science and western civilization will be staffed at 25 students-to-1 teacher ratio, plus or minus two. A staffing increase will bolster faculty support in the College Admissions Process class, which is basically an ACT test preparation class. It restores a specialist reading teacher to the rotation of English, math and science in the class. 

Two part-time literacy coach positions will be established to add to the emphasis on reading and a new part-time instructional technology coordinator position will be filled to manage the introduction of Google Apps for Education and a new learning management system as the district introduces more Chromebooks into the classroom. In the 2015-16 school year all RBHS students could be provided with Chromebooks.

Crouse is projecting that the district’s enrollment will increase slightly next year to 1,572 students, up about 60 students from the current enrollment of 1,513. But he is projecting enrollment to begin to decrease after the 2015-16 school year and drop to 1,493 students by the 2018-19 school year.

In addition, Crouse said the district must consider that it could become responsible for contributing to the teachers’ pension fund should the state legislature shift the current state contribution to local school districts.

“It’s going to happen in my mind,” Crouse said.

If any part of the pension reform bill passed by the state legislature last year is found unconstitutional, Crouse said the state legislature would likely look to the cost shift to recoup the lost savings.

Crouse said that District 208’s state financial scores are currently in the highest category, after dropping into the second highest level in 2009 and 2011. But he projects the score to drop into the lower category in 2015 and to stay there through 2019.

This story has been changed to clarify elements of the teachers’ contract and proposed changes to staffing.

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