Cuts to state aid might mean cutbacks at PBL schools

PAXTON — Continued cuts to state aid could leave the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district with some difficult decisions ahead, Superintendent Cliff McClure warned, including possible staff reductions.

McClure presented the school board with financial projections for the district on Jan. 9. McClure said he has heard the state will again reduce the amount of revenue the district receives per student in the 2014 fiscal year, leaving PBL with a projected $990,000 less in state aid than it had received two years ago.

State aid has already been slashed in the past two fiscal years, McClure said. In the 2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30, general state aid was cut by $250,000, McClure said, and so far this fiscal year, an additional reduction of $500,000 is expected.

“That’s very concerning,” McClure said.

The $250,000 that is expected to be cut from state aid for PBL next fiscal year makes the district’s financial situation that much more difficult, McClure said.

“We might have to start looking at, in the future, the reduction-in-force (of employees),” McClure said.

Reduction-in-force (RIF) is a term used when positions are  reduced. The district does this annually for some non-certified staff, but usually it rehires those staff members in the summer after it determines enough funds are on hand.

McClure also expects to continue to not fill some positions that are vacated due to retirements.

“It’s people that run schools, so the only way you can reduce, significantly, a lot of money is reducing staff,” McClure said. “But I don’t see a significant amount of that happening this year. I would say each year we’ll have to forecast that out.”

The district currently is receiving 89 percent — or $4.205 million — of its $4.717 million general state aid allotment, McClure said. Next fiscal year that number is expected to be reduced to 80 or even 79 percent, he said. That would mean a $990,000 reduction from what it is supposed to receive based on the number of its students.

McClure said the cuts mean a greater reliance on the $1 million in property tax revenue the district will receive next summer from the newly built Pioneer Trail Wind Farm near Paxton.

“I think this next year, as people say, ‘What are you going to be doing with the wind turbine money?’, this year we’re going to fill that gap, those dollars,” McClure said. “We’re going to put that in place of the general state aid.”

Fortunately, McClure said, the district also has reserve funds it can use if needed, as well.

“We’ll have to bank on those reserves and depend upon those reserves to get us through this rough time,” McClure said. “We might have to make more difficult decisions later on.”

In the meantime, McClure said, the district will “continue to spend conservatively.” He noted that, “right now, our district is not seeing an expenditure problem; it’s a revenue issue directly related to state funding.”

Besides the reduction in state aid that is projected, a lack of funding from the state is also hurting the district’s transportation fund, McClure said. The fund has taken a hit because of late payments as well as reductions in payments, McClure said.

The result will likely be reductions in bus routes as well as possibly loaning money from another fund to the transportation fund.

McClure said he has asked the district’s administrators to be aware of the district’s financial projections when considering new staff members or programming.

Other business
Also at the Jan. 9 meeting:

— The board discussed 2013 summer maintenance projects, capital improvement projects and long-term capital planning. Among the highlights: McClure said he expects the board to move forward with the bidding process for the replacement of the driveway in front of Clara Peterson Elementary School, estimated to cost between $50,000 and $100,000; and for new electrical gear and lighting at Zimmerman Field, estimated to cost between $150,000 and $180,000. McClure also said the district continues to explore a possible collaboration with the local youth football program to pay for a new scoreboard at Zimmerman Field. McClure also informed the board that the district will continue with the asbestos tile replacement at the high school focusing on the office area and more classrooms. McClure also said the softball concession stand project is progressing and should be complete by spring.

— The board discussed ways to increase the security of the district’s four schools, in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. More electronic door locks are being considered, McClure said. McClure said he will be contacting vendors and then bring cost estimates to the board for consideration this spring or summer.

— McClure said that for the eighth consecutive year, the district received financial recognition from the Illinois State Board of Education, based on PBL’s annual financial report prepared by its auditor.

Last week’s meeting
The board also met Jan. 16, with the following occurring:

— The board approved an amended budget for the 2013 fiscal year, showing additional expenditures in the operations and maintenance fund due to sewer problems at Clara Peterson Elementary School and some boiler problems at both Clara Peterson and PBL Eastlawn School. The budget also was amended to show an increase in revenue for the capital development budget, reflecting the fact PBL will receive some facility sales tax money from Champaign County.

— McClure presented the board with a first draft of the district’s calendar for the 2013-14 school year.

— The board approved the acceptance of a $300 grant from the Illinois Retired Teachers Association. PBL Eastlawn School teacher Lisa Niewold applied for the grant.

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