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New school budget totals $17 million

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By Dave Bell

After a 15-minute discussion and no input from the public, the Vandalia Board of Education passed a $17 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 and runs through June 30, 2010.

Though the budget includes several accounts with significant surpluses, the overall budget contains a deficit of $158,184 (less than 1 percent) in the four main operating accounts.

“We’re projecting a $3.1 million balance in our operating funds at the end of the current fiscal year (July 1, 2010),” Superintendent Rich Well told the board. Those four funds include the bulk of the district’s budget – encompassing the educational, operations and maintenance, transportation and working cash funds.

Together, those four funds total about $14.58 million. District expenses are about $14.74 million – thus producing the $158,184 deficit.

Well said that the deficit budget is the result of a combination of district initiatives that were in place and reduced state funding. Among those initiatives are the addition of language arts teachers at the Vandalia Junior High School (to address student achievement deficiencies in that area), a program to replace aging textbooks throughout the district (currently in the second of a five-year plan) and the district’s decision to continue to run a mid-day bus route for pre-kindergarten students (though state funding for the route is not available).

“The revenues are the big question mark this year,” Well told the school board.

“Our local sources are solid, but we just can’t predict what the state will do – and federal and state sources represent about 65 percent of our revenues.”

He said that the district was committed to the increased language arts teachers and to the textbook program before some of the state funding reductions were known.

“Basically, all the state funding (for new textbooks) has been cancelled, but we have committed to this five-year plan,” Well said.

“We’ll just have to spend district money.”

Well said that although the district is beginning the fiscal year with a deficit budget, it is in a considerably stronger position than it was when he became superintendent three years ago. At that time, the four main operating accounts had a deficit of $1,521,828. By the end of the 2008/2009 fiscal year (July 1, 2009), the district had a surplus of $3,292,084. Part of that $4,663,595 swing was the result of the infusion of $2.2 million from a referendum in 2007; that funding allowed the district to establish a surplus to avoid borrowing money to pay expenses and to actually realize some interest revenue from the surplus balance.

“There are so many unknowns out there this year,” Well said. “We’re $158,000 in the red, but we’re not going to sit back. If there is some more funding that becomes available, we’ll work that out. We’re in a position now where we can handle a small budget shortfall. We can’t do that year after year, but we were committed to those programs and thought we could handle it this year.”

He said that the district is scheduled to receive its first installment of property tax revenues from the county on Oct. 28.

The budget was passed unanimously by the board. Board member Jay Smith was absent.

Following the budget hearing, the board opened its regular monthly meeting.

It was announced that parent/teacher conferences are being split this year – with the high school, junior high and Okaw Area Vocational Center holding conferences this Thursday (3-6 p.m.) and Friday (12:30-3:30 p.m.), while the primary school and elementary school conferences won’t be held until Oct. 29 and 30.

“For the older students, we felt it was good to get together with the parents early so we could address any problems before it is too late,” Well said.

In their building reports, the principals of the district’s schools gave the following enrollment numbers:

Jefferson Primary School: 363 (down 15 from 2008);

Vandalia Elementary School: 362 (up three from 2008);

Vandalia Junior High School: 490 (up 23 from 2008); and

Vandalia High School: 493 (down five from 2008).

After a 40-minute closed session, the board took the following action:

• Accepted the retirements of bus driver Sherri Deutsch (effective this month) and aide Linda Leidner (effective June 2010);

• Approved bids for oil and tires: NAPA for 5W30 oil; South Central FS for 15W40 oil; South Central FS for tires ($17,181.38).

• Approved the destruction of executive session audio recordings older than 18 months, as allowed by law.

• Approved the annual application for recognition of schools.

• Approved the second reading of the Illinois School Board of Education policy updates.

• Approved the resignation of Nick Niemerg as VCHS junior varsity baseball coach.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:40 p.m.

• • •

Following the meeting, Well was asked by The Leader-Union why the district didn’t air President Barrack Obama’s national address to students on Sept. 8 at noon (Central time).

The president’s speech to students had produced concerns before it was delivered because some feared that he would use it to advance some of his social and political initiatives.

Well said that the local decision was made after consulting individually with each of the school board members. In a press release, Well said:

“The speech was to be delivered at noon, which is a time that many of our students are at lunch, recess or working within a variety of classrooms, which may or may not have televisions or cable access.

"We chose the option of having the speech taped and it would be shown at an appropriate time within the scope of the curriculum and in a teacher-supervised classroom.”

When asked about the decision on Tuesday, Well said that he went to the board members for their input “because they are the representatives of the community and they are to give us feedback.”

“We didn’t want to stop school to watch it live. Because of the time (of the speech), there were some logistical problems.

"We did what a lot of school districts in Illinois did: we taped it and notified teachers that it is available for them to show in their classes.

“The decision wasn’t anti or pro anything. We just thought it was better to be watched under the teachers’ direction and at their convenience.”