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No 'low-hanging fruit' as Downers Grove District 58 looks to make budget cuts

DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove Grade School District 58 Superintendent Kari Cremascoli assured school board members last week that administrators would “get our pencils and see what we can figure out” in an effort to further reduce the district’s budget deficit.

But making additional cuts to the spending plan, which is about $600,000 in the red, won’t be easy, administrators say.

“I’m not sure how to cut further than we already have,” Cremascoli said at the May 8 Board of Education meeting.

Board member John Miller was especially vocal at the meeting about finding additional budget reductions in an effort to balance the 2017-18 budget and avoid short-term borrowing. Miller said he was uncomfortable passing an unbalanced budget and described short-term borrowing as a slippery slope that can lead to further financial problems.

He could not be reached for comment for this story.

David Bein, assistant superintendent for business, agreed with Cremascoli’s assessment, saying additional budget cuts will be tough to find.

“It’s not like we have a lot of low-hanging fruit around,” Bein said. “I already had the pencil out. I put a lot of time combing through things.”

As a result, the district is no longer facing a $1.2 million budget deficit, he said.

Bein said the district has been cautious in its spending over the past several years, and budget cutting options are limited, he said.

The purchase or lease of new technology tools, such as iPads, could be delayed another year, saving the district $150,000. The downside of that move is saddling students with outdated technology, Bein said.

The district is facing an about 10-percent increase in employee health insurance as well as salary increases – both of which are unavoidable, Bein said. It will realize some savings as veteran, higher-paid teachers retire.

The $600,000 budgeted for a new English Language Arts curriculum was the focus of discussion at the May 8 meeting. Plans call for the curriculum to be fully implemented in the 2018-19 school year.

“People have spent multiple years on it,” Bein said. “We’ve been doing a lot of evaluation on it.”

The district has had its current English Language Arts curriculum for 13 years.

“Right now, we have $600,000 worked into the budget,” Bein said.

But the district likely will negotiate with the educational publisher it ultimately selects to reduce curriculum costs, he said.

A delay in categorical funding is one reason the district is facing budget difficulties.

The state is required to remit categorical funding to public school districts quarterly during the fiscal year. But the budget impasse has caused the state to be significantly behind in those payments.

The district is supposed to receive quarterly $800,000 payments, but the state is currently two payments behind, Bein said.

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