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Kaneland school district's $2.7 million surplus 'accrued on the backs of our teachers'

District held special meeting July 9 to gather information on budget while negotiations continue between teachers union, board

District 302
District 302

SUGAR GROVE – Supporters of Kaneland teachers came out in droves at a special school board meeting July 9, holding signs and wearing red to show solidarity as the Kaneland Education Association negotiates a new contract with Kaneland School District 302, which has a $2.7 million surplus in the 2019-2020 budget.

This budget analysis came at the request of the school board, which was looking to gain a better understanding of the reasons that contributed to such a substantial surplus.

When the tentative budget was discussed during the June 24 meeting, the administration anticipated a $2.7 million surplus, which represents approximately 4.6 percent of the operating expenditure budget. It included the combination of the additional revenue, underspent budgeted expenditures and the 2018-2019 budgeted excess of $259,000.

The board is being asked to adopt a $61.2 million tentative operating budget with a total tentative budget of $74.6 million for 2019-2020.

“Typically we’ve planned conservatively and that’s why you see a small surplus in the budget and the benefit lines,” said Dr. Julie-Ann Fuchs, associate superintendent. “We do the best we can without a crystal ball that’s clear.”

In a statement released July 10, Susan Acksel, chief negotiator for the Kaneland Education Association (KEA), stated that the board should "recognize" that the teachers are the main reason why the district has the surplus.

"For the past 10 years, KEA has done the right thing. The right thing by taking pay freezes when the district has needed us to," Acksel stated. "The right thing by ensuring any pay raises were sustainable and within the financial means of the district. The right thing by being willing to try new, innovative ideas in our classrooms. The right thing by caring for and nurturing our students as well as teaching them the state mandated objectives. The right thing by demanding during these negotiations that additional programs the board wants added, be done correctly and with a timeline that allows staff to be trained and not overworked. The right thing by requesting its members be fairly compensated for the extra workload and dedication to the district, yet is within the financial means of the district. Now it’s the district’s turn to do the right thing. It was teacher pay freezes that helped the district dramatically increase its education fund surplus. That $2.7 million dollar surplus was accrued on the backs of our teachers."

Fuchs explained that the significant contributors to the budget surplus fall into three categories of budget practices and philosophy, unexpected occurrences, including substantial one-timers, and user or system discrepancies.

“Some of the one-time expenditures need to allow for flexibility in the future,” she said. “While others are corrections that would make the money available to use in a different matter.”

She said that approximately $600,000 to $700,000 may now be available for re-allocation to other expenditures.

Fuchs also acknowledged that the administration would be making a number of changes to its budget practices, including supplemental communications with quarterly reports and a monthly update for the operational funds to be shared with the Board of Education.

Among other adjustments, the administrative team will review its budgeting practices for its building budgets to narrow gaps. And the business office will review the capital line items in the operational and maintenance fund for accuracy prior to the final budget being delivered.

The next budget update to the board will be on Aug. 26 with a budget hearing scheduled for Sept. 9.

Noting that she’s a 17-year employee in the district whose children have graduated from Kaneland and are the fourth generation in her family to do so, Acksel explained at the meeting that she’s not unique in that way, but that many of her colleagues share a similar background, are proud to be a part of Kaneland today, but are also disappointed right now.

“We teach here because we are proud of where we came from and want to continue the traditions that were born here,” she said. “That’s why it’s very disheartening that we are in the midst of our third consecutive negotiation that has resulted in mediation. We give you our all. What we ask for in return is a fair contract.

“To that point, KEA is here because we are stakeholders in our schools. We are interested to hear the report about the district’s finances and appreciate that the board is taking a close look. When the district’s financial plan is sound, it supports teachers, supports our efforts in the classroom, benefits our students and makes our community strong.”

The Board and KEA are set to meet with a mediator again on July 11.

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