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Financial headaches at PES

PRINCETON — There’s no good news when it comes to revenue for the Princeton Elementary School District, according to Superintendent Tim Smith.

At this week’s meeting of the PES Board, Smith said dwindling revenue continues to be the problem for the district. The board has issued $3,055,000 in working cash bonds to cover the operating funds, but that money has to stretch over the next three years.

“What concerns me is can we save fast enough,” Smith said. “This is nothing new, but it is way more severe than I even anticipated. I don’t see any improvement anytime soon.”

Contributing to the revenue problem, Smith said the district will see a “significant reduction” in local tax money with the local extension projected to be $180,000 less this year due to a decrease in the district’s equalized assessed valuation.

Also, the state of Illinois continues to be behind in its payments to the district in the education and transportation funds, Smith said. PES has received some recent payments, but more than $400,000 is still owed the district. Hopefully, additional payments will be received in coming weeks, he said.

In response, board member Terry O’Neill said it’s a sad statement when the board is somewhat encouraged that only $400,000 is owed the district by the state. Unfortunately, the state owing money to the district appears to be the new norm, he said.

In summarizing the revenue problem, Smith said the district is operating at the same revenue level in the education fund, the largest fund of the budget, as it did in 2006.

“There is absolutely no good news as it relates to revenue,” Smith said.”Every line of the revenue side of the budget has been impacted negatively. I can not find a positive.”

On the expense side of the budget, the district is running about a half of a percentage point better in the education fund than it was a year ago. Expenses in the transportation fund are a bit higher than a year ago because the district bought a couple school buses and paid for them up front. The rest of the funds are running about the same as last year at this time. Hopefully, the district will be able to sustain its level of expenses, Smith said.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, Smith and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Barb Valle addressed the changes coming to the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) standards and how those changes will affect local test scores for the next three years. This year’s ISAT will be based 20 percent on the new Common Core State Standards, adopted by Illinois and 44 other states, with that percentage increasing each year.

As reported earlier, Valle has said the new Common Core Standards will have a major impact on the way students learn, as well as what they learn. The focus will be on the mastery and application of skills and not simply the memorization of facts. The students will learn fewer, deeper and richer skills, rather than having more information at a surface level, she said.

During the transition time into the Common Core State Standards, local test scores can not be considered an accurate picture of how well teachers are teaching and students are learning, Valle told the PES Board. Once the transition is completed in three years, PES can start charting the academic growth of its students again, she said.

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