Members of the Dunlap School Board say they need to start looking at 2022 now in hopes of balancing the books after passing a deficit-heavy budget for the 2021 fiscal year.
“We just passed a budget that’s $5 million in the red. We all held our nose and passed it because we frankly didn’t have any choice,” board member Mike Wisdom said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I don’t think time is on our side. We’re going to have to make cuts, period, end of story.
“We’re going to have to figure out the least painful way we can do that, and I don’t think we need to wait to get a bunch of information on this, that and the other. We need to start looking at possibilities now and digging into this.”
The board voted 6-1 to approve the 2021 budget with a $4.9 million deficit, with President Abby Humbles dissenting. The preliminary budget was approved by the same vote in August; state law requires school districts to adopt their budgets by the end of the first fiscal quarter.
A public hearing drew no comments and the board did not discuss the matter before voting. The budget shows total expenses of $48.95 million and expenses of $53.85 million. The education fund accounts for the largest portions, with expenses of $36.54 million and revenue of $32.47 million.
The earlier discussion regarding 2022 budget targets escalated after Superintendent Scott Dearman recommended delaying the discussion to get a clearer picture of the continuing impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think to start having too many in-depth conversations right now is a little premature,” Dearman said. “Three months ago, we had the financial projections and we spent a lot of time going through different scenarios with those, and we really haven’t revisited those since. We need to because some things have changed.”
Dearman said sales tax revenue already is coming in higher than originally projected at the start of the pandemic. He added factors such as property tax collection rates, changes in equalized assessed valuations, potential passage of a statewide fair tax amendment, and minimum wage requirements all would impact the district’s balance sheets before the 2022 budget process starts in February.
“We’re still six months out from when a decision needs to be made, so we’ve got some time; we’re not up against it,” Dearman said in asking to delay the conversation.
But Wisdom said February will arrive quickly and the external factors won’t change the need to make up for the losses.
“We’re still going to have a massive hole in our budget,” he said. “I think we need to start thinking hard about what we can do for efficiencies, what we can get by without that we haven’t in the past. We need to start looking at what those are and what that can translate to in savings for the district, and I’m not sure that we need to wait a month to start that process.”
Humbles said no one expects the district to resolve the deficit in one year.
“But I think we need to start chipping away and tightening our belts,” she said. “Everything adds up … it’s (about) living within our means, and I think that’s something that all our taxpayers--and any of us--would like to do.”
The board agreed to hold a committee of the whole meeting in two weeks to continue the discussion.
At the start of the meeting, Tom Feldman was sworn in as a new board member, filling the vacancy created when Cheryl Bluth moved out of the district. Feldman, who finished fourth in the April 2019 school board election, participated in all the votes.
Other action items approved unanimously include a declaration of trust, an investment advisory agreement and a resolution authorizing a property tax appeal. The district was notified by the Peoria County Board of Review and Assessments about six 2019 tax appeal objections filed regarding changes in assessed valuation.
The board also heard a progress update on the district’s remote learning program. Families were given a remote learning option when the board approved full, five-day, in-person instruction in July. A discussion of numerous board policies and an action item to purchase new starting blocks for the Dunlap High School pool were tabled.
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