The financial outlook for Saratoga School District, like everywhere else, has a great deal to do with the economy and the housing market.
Declining home values and foreclosures have caused the residential property tax base in Saratoga School District to decline more than 5 percent for both the current fiscal year and next fiscal year. Residential property represents about 52 percent of Saratoga’s total tax base, with commercial and industrial property each representing approximately 22 percent. Farmland is the remaining classification, representing slightly over 5 percent of the total tax base.
Each year I provide a five-year financial projection to the board of education and interested community members. I do my best to anticipate tax-base growth or declines, enrollment, curriculum, staffing, state funding and other factors that influence the school budget. These projections provide the board with information to make informed decisions.
Unfortunately due to the economy and the financial crisis in the state of Illinois, it appears revenues will continue to decline for the foreseeable future. We do remain hopeful that with the completion of the Brisbin Road interchange, commercial or industrial development may take place that would improve the local economy. The Saratoga Board of Education and administration are focused on prioritizing expenditures to make the greatest impact on instruction and student learning.
Saratoga is utilizing TIF revenue from the city of Morris to provide technology, curriculum materials, school buses and to offset the bond portion of the tax rate. Having the ability to use TIF revenue to cover these expenditures allows us to spend our property tax revenue and state aid on personnel.
TIF revenue may also be used to move to a 1:1 computing environment for our sixth- through eighth-grade students. This would allow junior high students to have their own computing device. We are currently studying the feasibility of this plan and hope to phase this in over the next several years.
Currently our students are using laptop carts, which are shared among all classrooms at Saratoga. We are finding that with the increasing use of technology in our junior high classrooms, the computer carts do not meet our teachers’ and students’ needs.
Saratoga School District has in place a Building and Finance Advisory Committee (BFAC) and an Education Advisory Committee (EAC) that include board members, administrators, teachers, parents and community members. The purpose of these committees is to provide stakeholder feedback to the administration and board on decision making.
One important role of the Building and Finance Advisory Committee is to prioritize facility needs. As the student body grows at Saratoga, it has become increasingly difficult to provide enough time and space for our students to eat lunch without having a cafeteria. Our students currently eat in a small gym and multi-purpose room. The BFAC and the Board of Education will be exploring the possibilities of a full-service cafeteria becoming a reality in the next five to seven years.
The Morris area schools are also working together to share services when feasible to improve student learning and operate as efficiently as possible. The Morris Area Shared Services Committee meets regularly to investigate new ways we can work together. We already have several intergovernmental agreements in place that are saving taxpayer dollars. One of the most successful agreements has been the sharing of special education transportation services. We estimate that we have saved about $300,000 to $500,000 per year since the 2002-2003 school year.
We appreciate the support that we receive from our taxpayers and, in return, we need to do all that we can to operate our schools efficiently to provide the greatest impact to our students. As property tax revenues continue to decline and state funding decreases, it is important that school districts maintain fiscal responsibility and be cognizant of every dollar spent.
I am always happy to answer questions in the area of school finance and may be reached at (815) 416-1707.