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District 54 budget year better than expected

MORRIS – District 54 officials anticipated fiscal 2014-15 to be the most brutal on district finances, but superintendent Teri Shaw said she is “very optimistic” about the tentative budget passed Monday.

“We’ve worked really hard to mitigate the impact knowing that we were going into an economic recession,” Shaw said Thursday.

Entering the fourth year of substantial declines in property value, the Morris Elementary School District 54 school board planned for the worst during its long-term budgeting process.

“I knew that budget year [2015] would probably be our worst budget year with local levies being down,” Shaw said.

Last year, the district dealt with a 7.1 percent decline in property tax revenues. The two previous years, it experienced decreases of 5 percent and 3.8 percent, consecutively.

School districts rely on property tax revenues to operate.

Equalized assessed property values for the district are anticipated to drop another 3.9 percent next year, but District 54 will see some increased revenues which will help to offset the significant loss of property tax revenues.

Chiefly, the district will receive 7 percent more state aid money than it originally expected when drafting the 2014-15 budget.

The drop in property tax revenue next year has made the school eligible for more state aid than before. However, that amount is pro-rated at 89 percent, meaning the district will only receive 89 percent of the state money that it’s owed, Shaw said.

Until recently, the district expected to receive only 82 percent, so Shaw said the board was happy about the increase.

“You’d like to receive 100 percent of what you’re promised, but this is still better than we expected,” school board president Scott Hastings said Thursday.

Shaw said that if the district received all of the state aid it was slated to get, it would not be operating with a deficit budget.

Revenues from Morris’ first tax increment financing district also will increase next year.

A TIF district is an area in which assessed property values are frozen for a number of years. The difference in tax revenue generated between the frozen tax value and present-day value goes into a special TIF fund to be used for improvements to properties within the district.

The increased funds will allow District 54 to implement a new, one-to-one technology program, providing each third-, fourth- and fifth-grade student in the district with a take-home laptop.

Parents are required to pay one-time fee of $30 at registration, which will cover the cost of insurance and warranties for the computers, Shaw said.

The district is able to continue with the technology program – despite revenue shortages – due to cost-reduction strategies that were put in place throughout the last five years.

“We’re doing what we can to save,” Hastings said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about keeping what we can in front of the kids.”

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