District 95 administrative office | FILE

School district budgets often should not be taken at face value. The numbers there are typically placeholders that reflect very conservative assumptions about revenues. The final fiscal year numbers often end up hundreds of thousands of dollars different than what the budget projected and are usually more favorable than what was projected. 

That is expected to happen again this year with Brookfield-LaGrange School District 96 and Riverside Elementary School District 96.

On Aug. 10, the District 95 Board of Education passed a budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year that projects a deficit of approximately $800,000. But now less than two weeks later, District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said he now expects that when the fiscal year ends next summer the district will end up with a surplus in the range of $100,000 to $200,000. 

Mark Kuzniewski

That’s because last week – after the District 95 school board approved the budget —  the state of Illinois released its latest estimate of how much state aid school districts will receive under the state’s evidence-based funding formula.

The school district is now expected to receive $877,000 more in state aid than it received last year. District 95 is in the state’s Tier 1 of school districts, which receive the most state aid.

Last year’s budget in District 95 projected a deficit of about $700,000, yet the district finished the 2022-23 fiscal year with a surplus of approximately $400,000.

“The budget is a prediction more than a solid set of numbers,” Kuzniewski said. “They’re so many variables that occur throughout a year.”

A major expense for District 95 this year was the roof repair done this summer on the older portions of Brook Park School. That work cost $510,000.

D96 budget has built-in ‘cushion’

The official Riverside Elementary School District 96 budget approved on Aug. 16 is perfectly balanced. But at the school board’s Aug. 2 committee of the whole meeting, Jim Fitton, District 96’s director of finance and operations, told the school board that the budget has a built-in cushion of approximately $700,000. 

If nothing unexpected happens, he expects that the district will end the 2023-24 fiscal year with an operating surplus of about that amount.

“At this point I would think we would add $700,000 to fund balance next year with FY 2024, but I’m just not budgeting that, but I want everyone to know there’s some cushion to this,” Fitton said.

At the Aug. 2 meeting, Fitton explained that he carefully estimates annual expenses, focusing on what the district will pay in salaries to its employees for the entire year. He then he picks a revenue number to match his estimated expenses.

“It magically balances by picking the revenues to match that expenditure,” Fitton said.

Like most school districts, about 75% of District 96’s expenditures goes to salaries and benefits.

District 96 expects to transfer $3.8 million from its operating budget to its capital projects to pay for the work done this summer at Blythe Park School, Hauser Junior High and Hollywood School. 

At Blythe Park the school’s former auditorium has been transformed into a multipurpose room divided into the school’s library and a music classroom. The Hauser auditorium received extensive upgrades, especially in wiring and sound, while tuckpointing was done at Hollywood School.

Even with the transfer, the district’s cash reserves are projected to remain at a still very healthy level of 51% of the district’s operating budget. A fund balance of 33% is generally considered healthy.

Even though District 96’s overall employee count is increasing by 2.24 full-time-equivalent positions this year, its expenditure on salaries will decrease, because the district will have one less highly paid administrator. 

The temporary one-year position of associate director of student services has been eliminated as the person who held that job last year, Nora Geraghty, has replaced Pam Shaw as the director of student services. Shaw retired this summer. 

The associate director position was created for last year to give Geraghty a year to shadow Shaw and learn the job and the district.

Blythe Park School added a second fifth-grade teacher this year, making Blythe Park a true two-section school with two classes at each grade level.

District 96 expenses and revenues were both projected to increase by 4.5% this year. Unlike District 95, District 96 is in Tier 4 for state aid, which means it is among the most financially well-off school districts in Illinois. 

Fitton said he budgeted that the district will receive the same $1,491,042 it received in evidence based funding from the state last year.

“I have no reason to expect more, (I hope to be pleasantly surprised though),” Fitton wrote in an email.