The District entered negotiations with several core principles:
- We love our teachers
- We want what’s best for students
- We strive to protect and do right by our taxpaying community
- We operate within the realities of our financial situation.
From these starting points, the District entered negotiations with the hopes of increasing teacher pay and job satisfaction while staying true to our financial realities, fiscal responsibilities, and commitment to our tax-paying community.
Within those parameters of responsibility, the District has strategically focused on some key areas of the contract:
Starting Teacher Pay
The District and the union are in agreement that the starting salary for new teachers in District 158 is low in relation to our peer districts. A major component of the District’s strategic plan focuses on attracting and retaining high-quality staff, and we know that raising our starting salaries is key to that end.
From the onset of negotiations, the District has sought to increase salaries for new teachers. A raise of __% for starting teachers was included in the District’s first proposal, which was rejected by the union out of hand.
The District has also sought to increase pay for experienced teachers as well. However, District 158 salaries for experienced teachers are more competitive in comparison with peer districts than at the starting end of the salary schedule.
District 158 is seeking to offer competitive teacher salaries within the limitations posed by its relatively low tax base in comparison to peer districts (see chart).
Conservative Fiscal Planning
While a cursory glance at our finances appears to show substantial favorability, the District cautions observers to examine both the history that underlies and the future that lies ahead of this moment in time.
One measure by which District finances may be measured is its operating fund balance. This measure provides a basic accounting of the District’s assets vs. its liabilities at a given point in time. In essence, the greater a district’s fund balance, the better prepared it is to deal with financial uncertainties in the future.
The District’s current fund balance of 35% might seem to indicate large reserves, and from that the ability to absorb significant increases in personnel expenditures. However, the District has built up this fund balance under steadfast conservative fiscal management under the direction of the Board of Education. The District seeks to continue both to practice the general principle of fiscal conservatism and to grow the specific measure of its fund balance to at least 40% in an effort to prepare for future financial uncertainties. In comparison to area districts, the current fund balance of 35% is lower than the median measure (see chart).
Unfortunately, District finances are largely out of the control of the District, and even outside of the local community. Some 25% of the District’s revenues come from the State of Illinois. The ratio of state-to-local funds places Illinois among the worst states in the country in terms of state support for public schools, yet even at that relatively low funding level, the State has consistently failed to contribute its full share of school funding.
For the past several years, the State has funded just 89% of its financial obligation to local schools. For District 158, this proration has amounted to losses of about $3 million a year since FY 2013. While the new governor has sought to increase that prorated amount to 92% of its obligation, there is no indication that the state will be able to follow through with this promise. With this continued uncertainty in basic state funding, the District feels it is fiscally responsible to continue with conservative planning.
In addition, over the past few years there has been much discussion at the state level of two potential changes in state education funding, either of which could have a major impact on District finances.
1. Senate Bill 1 (2014 SB 1): Many area residents became acutely aware of proposed legislation to alter the formula under which the State distributes funds to schools throughout Illinois. A failed 2014 version of the bill would have cost the District an estimated $2.2 million. A revised bill was introduced as the first Illinois Senate bill of the 2015 session. While promising to negate the potentially calamitous impact of redistribution of funds away from suburban districts such as Huntley 158, the District seeks to continue conservative planning to guard against potential losses in funding under this reformulation.
2. Pension Cost Shift: Another proposal that has been looming without formal action in the State House is a potential pension cost shift, under which the State would reduce its obligation to fund teacher pensions and force a large portion of costs to local districts. The threat of this cost shift has raised alarm for districts throughout the state, most of whom would be forced to make drastic budgetary changes to absorb the millions of dollars in costs this proposal would add to local districts.