By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Quincy School Board on Wednesday adopted a $70.4 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
The spending plan hasn't changed since it was initially presented to the board in August.
Business Manager Joel Murphy said the budget is essentially "balanced," even though the document reflects estimated revenues of only $69.3 million. That falls short of projected expenses by $1.1 million. However, these numbers are a little misleading.
According to Murphy, the budget calls for spending $1.7 million for life-safety projects, but only $395,492 in new life-safety revenue is included in the budget. The rest of the money needed for the life-safety projects is already in the bank -- carried over from last year's unfinished projects -- so it doesn't appear in the budget as new revenue.
Murphy said total expenditures in the next fiscal year will be up by about 1.24 percent. This takes into account the newly ratified teachers contract, which includes raises and step increases totaling about 2 percent in the coming school year.
In accord with the contract negotiations, the board decided to begin offering employee health insurance through Blue Cross/Blue Shield instead of operating its own self-insurance fund. Richard McNay, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the new health insurance policy will go into effect Oct. 1. He said this will be a massive undertaking because so many employees will have to migrate to the new system.
"There will be a few little bumps, but that's to be expected," he said.
Also at Wednesday's meeting, the board heard a report from Carol Frericks, secondary academic director, and Julie Stratman, elementary academic director, on how the district is seeing lower student scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test taken last spring.
The results will be made available to the public in late October when the annual Illinois school "report cards" are released by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Frericks said the ISBE has raised the ISAT "cut scores," which determines how many students are meeting or exceeding standards.
"As a result of the higher cut scores, our student performance will have different results," she said. "That does not mean that our students are performing differently. It just means that the numbers reflect the change in the cut scores."
Board member Jeff Mays expressed concern that the tests will show more than half of Quincy's elementary-age students did not meet or exceed the state standards. That amounts to about 1,500 students, he said.
He said most of those students were moved on to the next grade even though they didn't meet the standard, and he wondered if that's a good thing.
"I'm not saying that we should hold back 1,500 kids, but I'm saying we have to look at whether it's appropriate to move kids forward when we know that they're not prepared to succeed at the next grade," Mays said. "That could be a pretty sticky discussion, but it's one I think we have to have."
Superintendent Steve Cobb said he's not satisfied with the test scores, which he says will serve as a "baseline" for the district's new administrative team.
"Am I pleased with the test data? No, I'm not," he said. "Are we going to do better? Are we going to improve? The simple answer is yes, we're going to."
Cobb said the district's academic leaders "know the urgency that we're under" and will do whatever it takes to improve student performance.