Last September when the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education approved the final budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, officials projected a budget deficit of $1.6 million.
But thanks to an influx of federal money, when the books close on the 2020-21 fiscal year in two weeks, Assistant Superintendent Kristin Smetana is expecting that RBHS will finish the year with a slight surplus.
“It’s hard to pick an exact amount, especially this year, but we received a lot of unexpected federal money as well as a couple of other sources of revenue,” Smetana said.
Two big federal COVID-relief packages passed last year resulted in RBHS receiving approximately $900,000 in federal aid this year. Nearly $790,000 of that was not accounted for in the budget approved last September. RBHS also benefited from a federal food grant that was part of pandemic relief.
“We anticipated having to spend over $200,000 out of pocket for food service this year, and we ended participating in that federal program which reimbursed us for a lot of those expenses,” Smetana said.
Property tax collection went a little better than expected which also improved the school’s financial picture. Last year Smetana projected that the district would only collect 97 percent of its property tax levy, down from the normal 99 percent, because of economic problems caused by the pandemic. But it turned out that RBHS has collected about 97.4 percent of its tax levy.
“We did hit that mark in our budget, and for a long time we didn’t think we would because that money slowly trickled in and didn’t follow the normal collection schedule,” Smetana said.
Smetana said RBHS also collected about $50,000 more than expected in interest income on investments handled by the Proviso Township Treasurer of Schools Office.
Smetana also expects that RBHS will also run a surplus next year. On June 8 the District 208 school board unanimously approved a tentative budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that projects an operating deficit of $26,715. But Smetana said that changes in the budget that will be made before the final budget is approved in September will turn that small deficit into a surplus.
“I fully anticipate having a surplus in next year’s budget once we start to finalize the budget in July and August,” Smetana said.
Right now, Smetana is again forecasting a 97 percent property tax collection rate but she will likely increase that projection once she sees exactly how much property tax revenue the district collected this year.
“We will change that in July or likely in August,” Smetana said. “We want to close out this fiscal year completely before we make that decision.”
The 2021-22 budget is also being boosted by the third round of federal pandemic relief funding approved early this year. Under the ESSERS III program, RBHS expects to receive about $1 million in federal reimbursements for expenses over the next two years.
RBHS will use the federal money in a variety of ways to counter the impacts of more than a year of mostly remote learning. It will use $250,000 in federal money to hire four additional paraprofessionals for next year and $84,000 will be spent to add 1.4 full time teaching positions over what had been budgeted. The move comes as a way to reduce class sizes, avoid crowded classrooms and promote social distancing.
The school will also use $161,660 in federal money to employ another psychologist to deal with learning loss and promote social and emotional health. Another $171,000 of federal money will be used to purchase Chromebooks, and $161,000 will be used to purchase educational software.
Some $40,000 in federal money will be used to hire additional building security to monitor students at lunchtime and at the start and end of the school day to ensure safe practices entering and exiting the building, while $60,000 will be spent on new wraparound social services for general education students.
The budget picture next year is also brighter because four veteran teachers and one counselor retired at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Smetana says the district typically saves about $70,000 each time a teacher retires and is replaced by a less experienced, and less expensive, new teacher.
The tentative budget projects total operating expenditures of $27,503,480 next year. Overall expenditures are projected to increase by 2.85 percent in the upcoming fiscal year. The tentative budget is currently available for viewing by the public on the district’s website.
The school board is expected to approve the final budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year in September.