District 203 Board begins 2017 budget process

State budget woes make planning hard for school districts.

Dr. Darcy Benway

Dr. Darcy Benway

O’FALLON – The District 203 Board of Education began reviewing the tentative fiscal year 2017 budget at their August meeting last Thursday night.

The budget, which totals $33,635,200, was presented by District 203’s Chief School Business Official Tamara Steckel. Statute requires that the Board of Education see the budget in advance and hold a budget hearing, which will take place at the September meeting.

Superintendent Darcy Benway said the budget is a work in progress and will change before the Board’s September meeting.

“There are still many unknowns from the state. They still have not released final categorical numbers, which cover transportation and special education. We will continue to tweak the tentative budget over the next 30 days and assess things as they go,” said Benway.

Benway said budgeting when having to deal with the state of Illinois isn’t an easy thing to do.

“Our budget philosophy has always been to budget on the conservative side, where we tend to budget our revenues a tad lower and our expenditures a tad high. That way it accounts for unknowns. The state budgeting process is broken. The way the state communicates with school districts on financial matters is broken. We do the very best we can with the information we have. To the taxpayers and stakeholders, at times a school district may appear incompetent because we’re forced to put together numbers that we really don’t have much knowledge to project. It’s very different than a business or corporation,” said Benway.

The budget hearing will take place on Thursday, September 22.

In other business…

  • Dr. Weld presented a briefing on ACT scores in the district. Weld reported that there has been a slight decline in ACT scores over the years and that the district has observed a larger number of students entering OTHS starting out in lower levels of math.

“We are trying to figure out how to accelerate them. We have made some changes to our practices, but because those changes have just been put in place, you’re probably not going to see the results of those changes for a couple of years as today’s freshmen become juniors. They’ve got to come through the system and we’ve got to get them there,” Benway explained.

  • The Board approved a change to its tuition policy, allowing students who are waiting for a house to be completed or closed upon to still start school at the normal time of year.

“Several years ago, OTHS allowed a grace period for families that had a house under construction or had placed an offer on a house and the closing hadn’t occurred. About three or four years ago, District 90 was changing their policy, enforcing a strict policy regarding tuition and didn’t really allow for any exceptions. So if you moved into the district shortly after school started, you would be required to pay tuition for the number of days up until that construction was complete or until that closing. We found that wasn’t really good for kids, that some families were withholding their kids from school until the house was complete and students were starting behind. We had hoped families would better plan and take care of their residency requirements, but that hasn’t worked out, so we have gone back to our old procedures and gone back to providing a grace period,” Benway said.

  • The Board received a report regarding the district’s technology infrastructure. It was reported that Phase 3 of the project has been completed and now the IT department can begin looking to upgrade actual equipment, such as computers, since the infrastructure is now in place.