UPDATE: Amid Difficult Budget Realities, District 205 Parents Launch Petition to Fight New School Start Times
"There is no low-hanging fruit," board member Hirsch said. "There are no clear, simple options. We have cut across the board. Cut after cut after cut."
UPDATE: FEB. 12, 3:45 p.m.
The online petition now has 723 signatures.
UPDATE: JAN. 28, 9:25 p.m.
As of Monday night, the online petition, "Stop District 205 Time Changes," had 466 signatures.
Friday, Jan. 25:
An online petition titled, "Stop District 205 Time Changes," has been posted online by parents opposed to the district moving to a three-tier bus schedule. The petition reads:
"We, the undersigned, call to District 205 of Elmhurst, Illinois, to reconsider the proposal of shifting the school hours of our Elementary Schools.
We are in direct conflict with this proposal and do not want the elementary hours changed from our current 8:15 AM to 3 PM."
The petition had 61 signatures as of Friday morning.
Some parents in Elmhurst District 205 have been very vocal about their opposition to the district's consideration of moving to a three-tier bus system, which would result in an elementary school start time of about 8:55 a.m. and a dismissal time closer to 4 p.m.
But the move would save the district about $350,000 a year and potentially preserve as many as six teacher positions. It's not a secret that the district is again looking at making more budget cuts that could directly impact class sizes and educational programs. The district has made millions of dollars in cuts over the past few years.
District 205 parent Robin Belleau and a group of parents attended the School Board's last meeting on Tuesday. Belleau said a shift in start times would be devastating to working parents, who would be forced to put their kids in morning daycare or Rec Station in order to get to work on time.
"It will impact their ability to function throughout the day," she said. "It is not an environment that is conducive to learning. It's basically a warehouse for the kids ... and a huge additional cost (to working families)."
She also expressed doubt that the programs could accommodate the additional children, and said savings to the district would be minimal compared to the total budget.
"The $350,000 on the table is actually .03 percent of the budget you work with every year," she said. "I implore you to compare that to how it will impact families."
(Calculations actually put that number at about .3 percent, based on the district's total $100 million budget.)
By the Numbers
Board members on Tuesday examined five-year financial projections of the district's operating fund, which mainly includes staff salary and benefits costs and does not include capital projects and other financial considerations. Salaries and benefits make up about 80 percent of the district's total budget.
PMA Financial Network senior financial advisor Doreen Linderman painted a picture of low or negative fund balances and budget deficits for the foreseeable future based on the following assumptions:
- A low consumer price index (1.7 percent for 2013) which limits the district's ability to tax under Illinois Tax Cap law
- several years of declining property values (last year's EAV was down 8.5 percent)
- sluggish new growth
- zero increase in state aid. In fact, the state is only paying at 85 percent of what the district is entitled to. General state aid is projected to come in at only $360 per student this year and provides less than 8 percent of all revenue to the district.
- Federal aid, which is 3 percent of the district's budget, could also be reduced, depending on the government's handling of sequestration.
- enrollment increase of 4.4 percent over the next five years, or 372 students
- additional staffing required based on state mandates for bilingual education and special education, in addition to staffing for increased enrollment
- tuition increases of 10 percent for students who must be sent outside the district for special services
- Technology needs. There has been no increase in technology spending, in fact there have been cuts for the past two years. The district must invest here to remain technologically relevant compared to other districts, board members say. Preliminary analysis shows the district needs to spend $2.7 million this fiscal year and $3 million next year just to maintain status quo.
- increasing health benefits, expected to go up 6 percent for fiscal year 2014 and 8 percent in future years
- "Transitional reinsurance fee" as part of the Affordable Health Care Act will add $127,000 to the budget.
Adding to these budget challenges is the possibility the state government will shift pension liabilities to the local school districts, which could cost District 205 $275,000 this year and as much as $1.4 million beginning in 2018.
This budget also does not take into consideration any life-safety or capital projects to repair the district's aging buildings. The district is facing $28 million in capital requests over the next 10 years.
"None of them are frivolous," board member Maria Hirsch said. "They are all significant, and we do not yet have a funding plan for those."
The board needs to look at the entire budget, but the purpose of reviewing the operating budget "is to give us a baseline," board member Chris Blum said.
"This is intended to anchor the discussion around recurring revenue streams," he said. "Unfortunately, this shows us increasing state mandates, benefit inflation, healthcare and whatnot are driving a structural deficit."
Board member Maria Hirsch reminded the board that they have been making reductions to staff "every year I've been on the board."
"If we go back 10 years and see what our certified staffing requirement was, see what enrollment was, I think we'll see it's the state mandates (that are driving staffing)," she said.
Board members agreed they need to look at a historical picture of the district's operating budget to better be able to explain to state legislators the funding challenges they face in relation to state mandates.
Board members want to see a new version of five-year predictions with a more conservative consumer price index built in, and they also asked the administration to come back with a list of cuts and any other ideas they can come up with to reduce expenditures.
"There is no low-hanging fruit," Hirsch said. "There are no clear, simple options. We have cut across the board. Cut after cut after cut."
Parents never want their children affected by cuts, she said.
"There's always a priority of 'Don't cut my program. Don't affect my child. Don't affect my life,' " she said. "These are all very valid concerns. But (our job) is to take these options and make a decision that's in the best long-term interest of the district. There is no simple answer."
Superintendent David Pruneau said his staff will bring back last year's "alternate" list of budget cuts, which have not yet been implemented.
"This is not rocket science at this point," he said. "The low-hanging fruit is long gone. We can take the list presented last year and update that with staff feedback on the results of the last budget cuts—what has worked, what has not worked, what has been devastating to the district."
Community involvement will be important in these decisions, Blum said.
"We need to have a community discussion on this," he said.
The School Board will next meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12.