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October 31, 2012

The Illinois Association of School Boards has published an updated edition of its top-selling book, Essentials of Illinois School Finance.

Sub-titled “A Guide to Techniques, Issues and Resources,” the book was originally designed as a training manual and desk-top reference for school business managers and budget makers. While it still serves that role, the book also provides an effective reference for anyone who needs to understand “the essentials of Illinois school finance.”  

From the peculiarities of Illinois property taxes and state funding to the formulas for projecting enrollments and staffing budgets, this book covers just about everything — and does it in plain English. Other features include a chapter on the role of school board policy in maintaining fiscal health (which is also addressed in the Foreword) and a detailed alphabetical index.

The author, James B. Fritts, is a retired public school business official who also has taught school finance to administrators and aspiring administrators at Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola University of Chicago. In addition to his own experiences and those of numerous students and colleagues, Fritts calls on a wide array of sources with expertise in state funding, property tax administration, and virtually all aspects of school business management.

The Sixth Edition is completely updated with revised laws through July 2012 and state funding data for fiscal year 2012. Author Fritts also attempts to help school budget managers deal with the nightmarish impact of the state's economic downturn and its impact on virtually all sources of school district income.

The first part of the book deals with revenue — where schools get it, how they maximize it, protect it, manage it and plan for it. The second half of the book addresses expenditures — how schools budget for them, reduce them, and make plans to deal with them. Together, the two sections provide a solid base for financial management and long-range planning.

Beginning with how Illinois funds its schools and the school district organization, Part I reviews the budget as a legal document and revenue plan, fund accounting, the property tax cycle and assessment process, the rules and impact of “tax caps,” corporate personal property replacement tax revenue, how the general state aid formula works, and categorical grants for special programs.

It continues with federal appropriations and matching grants, uses of local revenue sources, techniques for revenue projection, short- and long-term borrowing options, maintaining revenue controls, and successful referendum planning. Part I concludes with an analysis of the school funding debate over equity and adequacy.

Part II reviews how school expenditures are managed and monitored. The process begins by looking at the structure and techniques of budgeting expenses, the ‘seasons’ in the budget calendar, projecting student enrollments and staffing needs for elementary and secondary schools, and containing non-instructional and capital costs. It continues with multi-year budgeting projections, cost control practices, interpreting financial reports, and the forces that are changing the budgeting process.

A special chapter at the end examines the many standards for school finance and business management that need to be established by action of the local governing board. Topics examined include maintaining reserves through fund balance policies, as well as standards for financial reporting, budget development, bidding and purchasing, internal checks and balances, student activity funds, audits, bonding of the treasurer, the selection of banking services, and protecting physical facilities.

Essentials of Illinois School Finance is available from IASB Publications, 2921 Baker Drive, Springfield, IL 62703. Telephone 217/528-9688, extension 1108; fax 217/528-2831.

The price remains unchanged from the previous edition. It is $35 or $25 for IASB members, plus $7 per order for shipping, regardless of how many books are ordered.

The book also may be purchased through the Association’s online bookstore.

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