Last week the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education approved a budget that projects a small operating deficit. 

The board voted 6 to 1 at its Sept. 12 meeting to approve a budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year that projects an operating deficit of $326,069.

Wes Smithing, who was elected to the board in April, cast the only vote against approving the budget.

“I’m not in favor of deficit spending,” Smithing said. 

However, Smithing said that he didn’t have any specific suggestions for where money should be cut from the budget.

“I don’t know if I’m educated enough on the budget to tell you what to cut right now,” Smithing said. “I don’t have any ideas for that. We’ve got to change how we’re doing business.”

Board member John Keen cast a reluctant vote for the budget, saying that if deficits continue the administration should explore cost saving measures such as reducing the number of classes the school offers.

The district budgets conservatively, often underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses to prepare board members for a worst-case scenario, so the district could end up with a balanced budget or close to it.

“I’m hopeful that this year’s budget does not come in with a deficit and it actually comes in balanced,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. “I have my fingers crossed.”

The budget projects losing $324,000 in revenue due to property tax appeals, although last year the district only lost $158,361 in property tax appeals. Revenue lost to property tax appeals often varies year to year. 

The budget also projects that district will receive nearly $90,000 less in general state aid this year than it received last year, a decrease of just over 6 percent, even though a new law is supposed to guarantee that no school district will receive less state aid than it did last year. 

If the district just receives the same amount of general state aid it did a year ago that would shave nearly $90,000 off the projected deficit.

If the operating budget ends up in the red it will be the first time District 208 has run an operating deficit in Skinkis’ seven years as superintendent.

Spending for teachers and other certified staff is increasing by nearly 5 percent this year, mostly due to contractually mandated salary increases. Three new teaching positions were added this year, costing about $210,000 in a move to decrease class sizes. 

Special education transportation costs are projected to increase by about 10 percent, and operations and maintenance repair costs are projected to increase by nearly $22,000, or just over 23 percent.

The overall budget projects a total deficit of nearly $2.9 million largely, because of spending nearly $2.7 million on life-safety and capital projects, such as replacing significant portions of the school’s roof and building a new parking lot and new tennis courts.

The budget projects the district’s cash balance decreasing to about $13.8 million as of June 30, 2018 from the nearly $16.7 million cash balance the district held at the start of the fiscal year.

At last week’s board meeting Martha Carlson, the mother of a current RBHS freshman and of a recent RBHS graduate, blasted the school board in a public comment period for seeming to care more about athletics than academics, pointing to the district’s intent to issue $3 million in working cash bonds this year in the hope of working out a deal with the Brookfield Zoo and Cook County to give RBHS exclusive control over the athletic fields directly north of the school that are owned by the county and used by the Zoo for overflow parking on busy days.

“This is not an athletic facility, it’s a school,” said Carlson. “It’s an educational site.”

Carlson said that ACT scores have gone down in recent years at RBHS and class sizes have increased.

“You’re talking about spending money always on sports,” Carlson told the school board. “It’s really hard to listen to this year after year, and I want you to really think about it.”