Budget crunch strikes RB

Brian Wilson, Layout Manger

Over the past couple year’s, RB has been experiencing a quickly escalating budget crunch. Many budget cuts have already been made, and more are expected to happen in the following year. Some of the budget cuts that already happened include, reduced catering, athletic supplies, and a change in food service vendors.

Some fees have been raised in the past two years to accommodate the budget crunch. Parking fees have been raised, as well as text book fees, which were raised from $80 to $130.    

However, some have found themselves asking; how can this be? Since it has been predicted RB will come in under budget for its renovation project, expected to be finished in January. 

Chris Whelton, who  has been RB’s business manager for over two years now, reminded that “the construction is not done yet, and is on the right track for coming in under budget.”  “When we say under budget, we mean we are right in line with the budget, and any money left over would generally be used for repairs and maintenance.”  Whelton also said that “the excess money would not be enough to majorly affect the school, and the construction budget is looked at as a completely separate fund from regular operations”.

The construction money is grouped into the school’s “life safety” money, preventing it from being used in operating budget, which would include teachers’ salaries. At the end of the day the construction money has no effect on the normal operating expenses of RB.

Whelton explained the source of the budget crisis by saying, “revenues are flat, expenditures are rising, and that is the source of our deficit. Enrollment is up, we need more teachers, and then we have more salaries to pay. Our enrollment has driven our staffing pattern. Our three feeder districts are getting larger each year.”

RB’s three feeder districts, 94, 95, and 96 increased 27% last year, and are all steadily increasing with each year, requiring more teachers.  The average school in Illinois gets nearly 59% of revenues from local property taxes and about 18% from general state aid, whereas RB receives 81% of revenues from local property taxes, and only 7% from state aid.

“We are very reliant on property taxes, but the most we can increase property taxes is the CPI (consumer price index) which is currently 0.1%. Our revenues are very flat, but salaries and benefits are our biggest expenditures, and those are increasing at a faster rate than property taxes, this is what causes this structural imbalance.” Whelton said.

Enrollment is expected to continue to increase, strengthening the deficit. Whelton talked about federal funding as well, saying that “Illinois is in bad shape, because of the economy, and we already don’t get a lot of federal funding due to our demographics.” Whelton said RB did receive some new money from the stimulus plan. RB currently receives less than 1% of its revenues from federal funding, quite a difference from 7% which is the state average.

Whelton explained plans to fight the budget crunch. “The only way to turn this financial situation around is, that we are eventually going to have to pass a tax referendum, most likely in April of 2011,” said Whelton.

“The only way to get people to support raising taxes is to make budget cuts,” said Whelton. Whelton expressed plans for budget cuts, “ when you make budget cuts, you try to stay away from the teaching and instructional programs, we try to make the budget cuts that don’t affect the learning that is going on in the classrooms. We are trying everything we can to be more cost effective.”

Whelton added that next year’s budget cuts would be “significant”, and that it would be “a very difficult time financially, and that until we can pass a referendum, budget cuts will have to be made every year; these budget cuts will include cutting staff.”  “The students come first; we have high standards for our students but we need to be cost effective, and we need to provide student services in a cost effective manner,” said Whelton. Whelton also stated that “clubs and student programs will be under high scrutiny in next year’s budget. Lots of difficult decisions will have to be made when thinking about things that will have to be cut.”

RB is trying an outside source of revenue. A new cell tower is being built that AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint will use.  These companies used to have antennas on a smokestack that RB owned, but it was knocked down as part of the renovation project. Part of the deal was that a new cell tower would be built that all three companies could use, as well as a fourth carrier. RB receives about $20,000 annually from each carrier, and is taking bids for a fourth and final spot on the tower. RB is looking into U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile for the fourth carrier on the tower. The tower is expected to be completed this winter, and is being built just off of First Avenue next to the field house.  The cell tower is the only outside source of revenue for RB, leaving the school reliant on property taxes.

 Although it’s been said the recession is over, many families are still enduring a hard financial time, and passing a referendum may prove quite difficult for RB.