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Rockford Public Schools approves 2021 budget with a multi-million dollar deficit

Facing a $9.3 million deficit, leaders say they need to dig into the district’s “rainy day” fund.
Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 6:07 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - The Rockford School Board passes a budget for 2021 that begins in a $9 million hole, but administrators are working to make sure those financial challenges don’t affect the district’s students.

“I don’t lightly approve a deficit budget. In fact, I think I’ve strongly objected to deficit budgets in the past. I think these are unusual circumstances,” said Tim Rollins, RPS 205 Board Vice President.

Approving a budget can be difficult even in the best of times, add a pandemic and those financial challenges get bigger. Facing a $9.3 million deficit, leaders say they need to dig into the district’s “rainy day” fund. To the Rockford Public Schools, it’s pouring.

“We do know what school looks like now, we’ve been in session for a couple of weeks. It’s really hard to try to plan when you don’t really know what school is going to look like, so now we have a better idea of that,” said Michelle Jahr, Rockford Public Schools Chief Financial Officer.

But some board members say looking for cuts, and trying to save money wherever possible, is an exercise that should be done every year.

“I’ve been through enough of these budget cycles to know that strange things happen with revenue and expenditures and sometimes, that just happens. I’m not concerned about a one year deficit budget, but I do appreciate the emphasis on looking for ways to reduce the deficit during the year and make sure that we don’t. Because I’ll assure you, if we do a multi-year deficit budget, you will hear from me,” said Rollins.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to pass an unbalanced budget for any of us, but under the circumstances, this is what our fund balance is for. It’s for a rainy day and this pandemic is one thing that not one of us have lived through. So, that is what it’s for. It’s just for a crisis and this is a crisis that we’re experiencing,” said Jahr.

Because the district received funding from the CARES Act to supply all students with the tools needed to successfully participate in virtual learning, Jahr says families won’t feel much of an impact.

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