Spending tighter at Eureka schools

Nick Vlahos GateHouse News Service

In the Congerville-Eureka-Goodfield School District, money has become an object. Not to mention a subject of significant consternation.

Community Unit School District 140 incurred almost $1.7 million in deficit spending from its education fund in the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ended June 30. Projected revenue and expenses for 2012-13 are expected to decrease and increase, respectively.

Belt-tightening is expected for the current fiscal year, Superintendent Bob Gold said Monday. After that, budget cutting looms, as does an increase in the district’s property tax levy.

“It’s not the best news of the evening,” Gold told the School Board during its regular meeting. “But I keep telling myself it’s the hand we’re dealt, and we’ve got to do the best with it.”

Total expenses outpaced revenue by almost $2 million in 2011-12, according to figures Gold provided. The district has about $7.2 million in fund balances, including almost $3 million in the education fund. But that won’t last long, according to Gold.

“The deficit is going to continue. In fact, it’s going to get bigger and bigger, and in a couple of years, you’re done,” he said.

The district has lost more than $1.2 million recently in actual and projected state and federal aid, according to Gold, who assumed office July 1. His predecessor, Randy Crump, warned about an impending financial problem.

“But I didn’t think it was going to be like this,” Gold said.

Last year, the board approved a property levy rate of $3.81 per $100 assessed valuation. That was an increase of about 5 1/2 cents, but it is by far the lowest rate among Woodford County-based districts.

“Dr. Crump was on us about that,” board President Teri Ehrenhardt said. “We made public statements that we cannot continue to cut the levy.”

The education fund - which is the most endangered, according to Gold - provides everything related to student instruction.

The district is spending about $1.1 million on new bleachers and a running track under construction at the high school football field, but that money comes from another fund, which is in decent shape, Gold said.

He also said he understands why district residents might question that expense.

“It’s a hard issue for everyone to separate,” said Gold, who does not advocate covering deficits by moving money between funds.

Gold said he plans to meet Tuesday with district administrators and emphasize separating purchasing needs from wants this fiscal year.

Later this calendar year, more severe measures await board consideration, but Ehrenhardt appeared optimistic.

“We’ll be fine,” she said. “We’ll work through it.”