Fed cash turns RBHS finances deficit into surplus

When the Board of Education of Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 approved the final budget for fiscal year 2020-21 last September, officials projected a budget deficit of $ 1.6 million.

But thanks to the inflow of federal funds, deputy superintendent Kristin Smetana expects the RBHS to close the year in a slight surplus when the books for fiscal 2020-21 are closed in two weeks.

“It’s difficult to pin down an exact amount, especially this year, but we’ve received a lot of unexpected federal funding as well as several other sources of income,” said Smetana.

Two major federal COVID relief packages that were passed last year resulted in RBHS receiving approximately $ 900,000 in federal aid this year. Almost $ 790,000 of that was left out of the budget approved last September. RBHS also benefited from a federal food grant that was part of pandemic relief.

“We expected to spend over $ 200,000 on food this year, and we ended up participating in this federal program that reimbursed us for much of that,” said Smetana.

The property tax collection went a little better than expected, which also improved the school’s financial situation. Last year, Smetana predicted that the district would collect only 97 percent of its property tax, up from the normal 99 percent because of the economic troubles caused by the pandemic. However, it turned out that the RBHS collected around 97.4 percent of their tax levy.

“We reached this mark in our budget, and we didn’t think we’d make it for a long time because the money was coming in slowly and not following the normal collection plan,” said Smetana.

Smetana said RBHS has also raised approximately $ 50,000 more than expected in interest income from investments managed by the treasurer of the Proviso community school office.

Smetana also expects RBHS to generate a surplus in the next year as well. On June 8, the District 208 School Board unanimously approved a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2021-22 that projects an operating deficit of $ 26,715. But Smetana said budget changes made before the final budget was adopted in September will turn that small deficit into a surplus.

“I fully expect a budget surplus for next year when we start completing the budget in July and August,” said Smetana.

For now, Smetana is again forecasting a 97 percent land tax collection rate, but she’ll likely increase that forecast once she sees exactly how much property tax the district has collected this year.

“We will change that in July or probably in August,” said Smetana. “We want to close this fiscal year in full before we make this decision.”

The budget for 2021-22 will also be topped up by the third round of federal pandemic aid approved at the beginning of this year. As part of the ESSERS III program, RBHS expects to receive approximately $ 1 million in federal reimbursements over the next two years.

The RBHS will use the federal funds in a variety of ways to counter the effects of more than a year of mostly distance learning. It will use $ 250,000 in federal funding to hire four additional paraprofessionals for the next year and $ 84,000 will be used to add 1.4 full-time apprenticeships over budget. The move is to reduce class size, avoid overcrowded classrooms, and encourage social distancing.

The school will also use $ 161,660 in federal funds to hire another psychologist to deal with learning disabilities and promote social and emotional health. Another $ 171,000 in federal funds will go towards purchasing Chromebooks and $ 161,000 towards purchasing educational software.

Approximately $ 40,000 in federal funds will be used to rent additional building security to monitor students at lunchtime and the start and end of the school day to ensure safe practices when entering and exiting the building, while $ 60,000 for new comprehensive social services for general education students.

The budget picture for next year is also brighter because four experienced teachers and one advisor retired at the end of the 2020/21 school year. Smetana says the district saves about $ 70,000 every time a teacher retires and is replaced with a less experienced and less expensive new teacher.

The tentative budget is $ 27,503,480 in operating expenses for the next year. Total spending is expected to increase by 2.85 percent in the coming financial year. The provisional budget is currently available to the public on the district’s website.

The final budget for the 2021/22 financial year is expected to be approved by the school council in September.