Maintaining a baseline level of fund balance, otherwise known as a financial reserve, enhances financial stability for any individual or organization. Just as people keep emergency funds in their checking accounts, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) seeks to maintain a baseline amount of funds within its operating account to ensure smooth day-to-day operations. Additionally, financial reserves provide a cushion for year-to-year fluctuations in financial performance.
In FY2021, CPS projects an additional $42 million in the district fund balance due to end-of-year revenues exceeding expenditures by that amount. The district’s projected financial performance is driven by lower-than-budgeted-expenses from remote school for most of FY2021 and the additional federal funding CPS received as part of the ESSER II funding package passed by Congress in December 2020. This funding allowed CPS to balance its original budget - which included an assumption of $343 million in new federal funding - and cover new expenses related to remote learning and school re-opening.
CPS adopted its Fund Balance and Budget Management policy1 in August 2008 and passed an amended version in January 2021.2 The amended policy increases the target unrestricted fund balance to 15 percent (from a minimum of 5 percent previously) of CPS’ operating and debt service budget, net of certain non-cash expenditures. The updated policy reflects best practices recommended by the Government Finance Officers’ Association (GFOA) and reflects CPS commitment to continue to strengthen its financial position. The goals of this policy are to maintain adequate fund balances in various funds to provide sufficient cash flow for daily financial needs, offset significant economic downturns or revenue shortfalls, provide funds for unforeseen emergency expenditures, and secure and maintain strong credit ratings. The definition of fund balances in this context is assets plus deferred outflows in excess of liabilities plus deferred inflows that have no external restrictions.
Use of Fund Balance
The Chicago Board of Education’s fund balance consists of both restricted and unrestricted amounts. The appropriated portion of fund balance comprises the unspent restricted prior year fund balance. Due to the nature of these funds—which include federal nutrition funding, state funding for early childhood, and school-generated revenue—they can only be spent on the intended use and not for general expenses. As a result, even with a balanced budget, the district will still appropriate a general operating fund balance. In FY2022, $10 million of the $7.8 billion operating budget is funded by restricted fund balance.
Debt service funds and capital funds are recorded separately and used for their own restricted purposes. These funds are described more fully in the capital and debt chapters.
|FY2021 Estimated Year-End
|FY2022 Proposed Budget
|Fund Balance, beginning of period
|Net Change in Fund Balance
|Fund Balance, end of period
Fund Balance Targets
The fund balance targets established in the Fund Balance policy address the General Fund, Workers’ Compensation/Tort Fund, Debt Service Funds, and Capital Projects Funds. For the General Fund, the fund balance target is set at 15 percent of the total operating and debt service budgets. For the Workers’ Compensation/Tort Fund, the fund balance target is between one and two percent of the operating budget. For the Debt Service Funds, the amount should be sufficient to cover potential risks, as determined by the Office of Treasury & Risk Management. All Capital Projects Funds are re-appropriated for capital projects.
Given these targets and the fund balance estimates above, Table 2 below summarizes the fund balance targets.
|FY2021 Fund Balance Target
|Workers’ Comp/Tort Fund
|Debt Service Stabilization Fund
|Enough to cover risks
While CPS projects that it will increase its fund balance at the end of FY2021, continuing the trend of growth in overall reserves, CPS will likely remain short of the updated general fund target. While this is expected in year one of the revised policy, CPS is confident that its strengthened financial position and the availability of new federal resources will allow it to meet the revised target in coming years.
As the district has replaced its variable rate debt with fixed rate debt, and since the district has fully exited from swaps, there is a minimal need for the Debt Service Stabilization Fund.