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No Teachers Will Be Cut To Fill Elmhurst District 205 Budget Gap for 2014

But the School Board has a giant task in front of it: finding out from the community how it wants to restructure the district for long-term sustainability.

Elmhurst Unit District 205 is facing a budget deficit of $1.7 million for next fiscal year. But after much discussion Tuesday, School Board members decided not to lay off any teachers to bridge the gap. It will be the first time in several years teachers have not been let go.

That does not mean, however, that the district's budget problems are improving or that reductions in force won't be needed the following year, board member said. Basically, they are buying time—12 to 18 months—so they can go out into the community and talk to stakeholders about how they should structurally change the district for long-term sustainability. These will be significant changes, board members said, not stopgap measures year to year.

What is causing the deficits? Read Difficult Budget Realities: District 205 Looks at Five-year Projections

The decision came down to the wire Tuesday; administrators needed to know by the next meeting whether staff positions would be eliminated for next year.

Layoffs are very damaging to morale, board President Jim Collins said.

"The best way to lower morale is to lay off people year after year after year," he said. "It would do the staff a world of good to have a reprieve of staff reductions for one year."

But the money to fill that $1.7 million budget gap has to come from somewhere, and the district has two, one-time options to do that this year. They can spend the entire $1 million payout of tax increment financing surplus from the city's TIF 2, and they can draw down the district's health insurance reserves by $700,000.

The caveat is that the School Board must immediately take on the enormous task of explaining the district's financial needs to the community and solicit input on long-term solutions, whether that ends up being program cuts, referendum or some other means of balancing the budget.

School Board members Susan DeRonne and Maria Hirsch were not comfortable using one-time revenues to close the fiscal year 2014 budget gap.

DeRonne said she felt there was no assurance the School Board would get the $1 million in TIF 2 surplus.

"What assurance do we have that we're going to get that $1 million?" she asked. "Either we wrap up (negotiations with the city immediately) or we have to RIF in April. We have no alternatives. We need more certainty."

The School Board has been in discussion with the city for many months over the wording of the intergovernmental agreement regarding TIF, but Collins assured the board the holdup has nothing to do with the $1 million the city promised to pay from TIF 2. The $1 million will be paid out as soon as an agreement is signed, he said.

The sticking point with the city has to do with $6 million in future money promised to the School Board for capital improvements at Conrad Fischer Elementary and Churchville Middle schools, which are located in the new TIF 4.

"The only thing we're still talking about is putting in writing under what conditions the schools in the TIF would receive (the $6 million). That's the only point we're still negotiating," Collins said.

The latest proposal from the School Board is before the city now, and representatives of the two entities are meeting Wednesday afternoon, he said.

The board theoretically doesn't need the $1 million until May 31, 2014, Collins said. At that point, if an agreement hasn't been reached, the board could decide to sign the intergovernmental agreement without the desired wording for Churchville and Conrad Fischer and still receive the $1 million on the spot.

"At some point, the board may decide that's the best we're going to get, but we're going to try for better, first," he said.

Board member Maria Hirsch said once this year's budget is passed, she worries any discussions of future budgets will "fall off the radar." It's happened before, she said.

"I know we say it can't, but it does," she said.

She also is concerned that the 12 to 18 months available to talk to the community is not enough time.

"If you want to get a referendum passed, then you'll need a longer ramp. We'll need to do some serious planning," she said, emphasizing that she's not advocating for a referendum.

Board member and Finance Committee Chairman Chris Blum said he would never agree to the one-time funding if it weren't for a promise to fix the problem long-term with the help of the community.

"I wouldn't do this if we didn't agree to have a conversation right now about that fiscal year 2015 number," he said. "We all have to be committed to that if we agree to no cuts. We're not going to sit here and watch this happen. We did that last year. I'm not going to make that mistake again."

As for the time frame for discussion, he said he believes it can be done in 12 to 18 months. The discussion will center on how the district got here, how money is spent, what expenditures are non-discretionary and what the priorities are going forward. Capital expenditures for the district's aging buildings will likely play a big role in the discussions, board members said.

"We owe it to the community to tell them what they are spending money on," he said. "We owe it to them to put a sustainable model together.

"This is not going to be easy. Nobody is going to be thrilled, but we have two options. In 2015, if we don't have more revenue or reorganization, we'll have to make drastic cuts."

This is an opportunity to show the community "what kind of board we are" with regard to transparency, board member Shannon Ebner said.

"We are up for this task," she said. "It's going to be a tough year, but we want full involvement and decision making with our staff and community."

Board member Karen Stuefen agreed.

"This is the path we have to take, so I'm in," she said. "It's the responsible thing to do."

Neither DeRonne nor Hirsch are running for re-election in April. DeRonne ultimately said she was opposed to the plan. Hirsch said she was uncomfortable making decisions like this when she is not going to be on the board to help see it through. She grudgingly agreed to no cuts this year, saying it's "a very complex question."

"It's not about how much work we're willing to do, it's about what the community is willing to invest," she said. "I'm not going to be around to own that decision, but I have to weigh in on this. I'm very concerned about the amount of time (allotted) ... but I'm not going to keep you from going for it. I'll say OK to the $1.7 million and I'll help as much as I can in the two months I'm around."

Collins reassured board members that in the worst-case scenario, they are simply delaying cuts for one year.

"We're not recklessly spending money," he said. "We have gone out of our way to be fiscally responsible to constituents. We do have a revenue problem but it's not up to us. If the answer is continue to cut, then we continue to cut."

The board committed to keeping the budget topic on the agenda of every School Board meeting until the problem is resolved.

Ken February 13, 2013 at 02:05 PM
You can't have stability with the massive pension giveaway teachers receive at the expense of the taxpayers. Teachers today are overpaid and over compensated thanks to the deals between their union and our pols who don't represent the common cititzen. We need to cap the pensions teachers receive now at 50% of salary, have them pay for their own medical through Obamacare and no longer offer pensions to new hires (401k's from now on just like the rest of us). There's no way teachers should receive anything more than what we taxpayers have to live with when we retire.
Likes the Facts February 13, 2013 at 02:31 PM
@ Ken There are over 3,000 teachers/school officials with over $100,000/year Pensions - most from our part of IL. There are over 30,000 teachers currently working making over $120,000/year. Madigan is going to add a little increase each year beginning the 2015 year for each school board. It will gradually get higher and higher every year after. Voters please wake up. We cannot have any local elected officials that are supported by Madigan or Madigan operatives. Our schools here cannot survive as we know them. Please educate yourselves. Do not vote for someone for local office of mayor or school board just because you know the spouse of go to the same workout place. Learn the issues. And the guy who negotiated the last teacher's deal here, VOTE HIM OUT!
JL February 13, 2013 at 02:35 PM
You have 1 million from TIF money. Use it because a referendum is not the answer. Figure out how to balance the budget without asking taxpayers to give more. Elmhurst taxes are high enough and Elmhurst asks for referendums too much. I pay my bills without asking others for help. Teachers and support staff who work directly with children should not be cut. Administration can be cut. Elmhurst has always had a problem with balancing the budget. Maybe we you should look at getting a good finance person on the board or in the district.
JL February 13, 2013 at 02:44 PM
District 205 is not in a deficit due to teacher pensions. Teachers do not spend the money they educate the kids. Look at the administration and board as to why Elmhurst is in a deficit. They have the control to fix it. Teachers pay more (9.4%) each paycheck to their pension than they due to federal taxes. They also pay medicare and THIS (health insurance premium to the state that they cannot collect until they retire). Why does Elmhurst pay the administrator's portion of TRS? That could be a huge savings to the district. That is probably 10,000-20,000 per administrator employed by the district.
Dan February 13, 2013 at 02:51 PM
You can't fund a school district effectively when the state provides less than 8% of the school budget. In a recent article in The Patch the school said that Illinois only funds $340 per student to their general fund. Think about that. That is less than $2 per day and less than 3 million dollars of the school's budget. Do you start to see were the really problem lies. The whole problem comes down to the imbalance in how our schools are funded. The school board should invite the local state represenitives to their meetings and the public should get the chance to ask them how they will go about fixing this problem. I do understand that Illinois is "broke". I just don't think it is the result of the dollars they spend on district 205. If they can afford millions on nice but not necessary grant projects then they certainly can spend a few million more on education.
Cara Konnel February 13, 2013 at 03:14 PM
First of all, the school Dist does not have the Mil yet. Second of all, they could trim the salaries at the top, starting with the Admin at the board office Third this is a business, run it like a busienss. I would assume that Mr. Collins business does not look like this, Get rid of the non requiered things, such as spanish art music just for 1 year, contract services out, such as is done with the nurses, I don't think that they are distsric employees, but hospital, so dist does not pay benefits etc. lots can be done if the board woudl get its head out of the sand, and quit tryin to one up each other. Pruneau needs to be a direct leader, not the board lead him, or perhaps that is what the board wants.
Karen Chadra (Editor) February 13, 2013 at 03:19 PM
District 205 is not alone in its struggle to balance the budget and maintain student programs. Some of the reasons: state mandates for special education and bilingual education, low CPI, minimal state aid of $360 per student, enrollment increases, technology needs, capital needs, increasing health benefits and, coming soon, pension liabilities, to name a few. http://elmhurst.patch.com/articles/in-the-midst-of-difficult-budget-realities-elmhurst-parents-launch-online-petition-against-altered-school-start-times
Likes the Facts February 13, 2013 at 04:10 PM
@ Cara You make wise points. The only way to get this school board moving is to get rid of all the incumbents. Collins loves "being in control." Collins has got to go. He is not letting Pruneau do the job. DeRonne is stepping out. Good. I for one will miss Hirsch, as she is a constant voice of reason and is well spoken. So, clean house, get rid of Collins and then we will have a new board that can get out of the way. To educate yourselves, read the Harris Poll results on the BoardDocs. The District 205 school board got the LOWEST rating of all indicators of anything the Poll results showed. That's right. This Collins led school board got the absolute lowest rating of anything the Harris survey showed. There is no spin Collins can put on that. He is in charge. He is responsible for the board and the board direction. Please educate yourselves on these details. Another two years of Collins at the helm at the District will cripple our school kids for years to come. Please people, these concerns about our kids are real important.
Elle M February 13, 2013 at 04:44 PM
I do not think Mr. Collins listens very well. I've started attending some of these meetings around town to learn more information. I was at the schools meeting a few weeks back. My impression was Mr. Collins loves to hear himself speak, but does not much care for what the people that come to speak have to say. It takes a special leader to listen and I don't see that in Mr. Collins. elle
Live On Olive February 13, 2013 at 06:03 PM
It is very disturbing to hear that the school board has such a poor community reputation according to Harris. For anyone that wants to learn the quality of the poll process see this link. It is very well respected. http://www.harrisinteractive.com/Products/Reports/SchoolPoll.aspx I retired from college faculty and do some consulting now. I have seen other area public schools use this to great advantage to seek to constantly improve. The Harris Interactive Poll does not lie. Our school board ranking that is so low speaks volumes on the lack of quality board leadership. Since many of the longtime members are gone, this results likely points to one person, the board President. To learn more I'm going to watch a few of the a school board meetings in the future to see what I can learn about Mr. Collins. I know he is seeking re-election. Maybe it is time to go a different direction? On the pension mismanagement in our state, that is another whole kettle of fish.
Karen Stezowski February 13, 2013 at 09:20 PM
I was actually AT that meeting last night and what I heard was totally different from what I'm reading here. What I heard was that the Board wasn't satisfied with ANY of their scores...even the "good" ones. John M. suggested bringing the study with him to all the meetings he went to, Shannon Ebner was asking what the highest score you could get was, there was a lengthy discussion about how to START the improvement PROCESS. To sum up, what I heard was that clearly the Harris Poll is the baseline for a District wide improvement process that the entire School Board is committed too, even the ones who are not running for office next time. I give them a credit for even doing the poll and then showing the good, bad, and ugly to the public. The other point I would like to make is that punishment at the baseline is a very bad management strategy. I believe the District looks at the Harris Poll as the baseline. If, by the next Harris Poll, there is not significant improvement - then I am all for "cleaning house" - but punishing at the baseline only discourages people from doing the painful work of truly examining where they are.
Henry February 13, 2013 at 10:22 PM
Our school board members are working hard. These are tough decisions and I know they have the best interest of our kids, school and community in mind and at heart.
Rick M. February 14, 2013 at 02:59 AM
How much is the cost per pupil ? How does that compare with private/parochial schools? If the district's costs are much higher (which is my guess)then there is something wrong and it is probably on salary and benefits.
Dan February 14, 2013 at 04:07 AM
From District 205's quick facts Average cost per pupil $12,719 State average $11,664 Private schools throughout DuPage have a wide range. Some spend almost as much as the public schools others much less. You can't really just look up tuition costs since most private schools are supported by donations. You also have to consider that public schools are impacted by boat loads of state mandates and additional responsibilities for special need students etc. Probably a better comparison is the state average that shows Elmhurst spending about $1000 more per student than average or about $8 million more per year for the entire school. The big difference in Elmhurst is the amount of money that comes from the state. The average district in Illinois sees about 28% of the budget funded from Springfield where Elmhurst sees less than 8%. This means that District 205 is shorted about 22 million dollars per year compared to the average school district in Illinois. It isn't because Illinois is overly generous to the other districts. Illinois is actual dead last in funding education at the state level when compared to every other state.
Peggy Suratt February 14, 2013 at 04:13 AM
here's a fact that every one needs to recognize; and that is that the taxpayers are NEVER going to approve a referendum. it's just never gonna happen as long as gym teachers are making 100,000 for 9 months of work. trust me, there are great teachers in this district, and most of them have worked long and hard for the pay they make. but in the final analysis, our pro-labor state has imposed too many laws that guarantee full employment for teachers (such as mandatory gym). and the tipping point for the d205 titanic is fast approaching. if they don't start cutting programs and offerings soon, they are going to hit that iceberg sooner rather than later ... grab your life preserver
Dan February 14, 2013 at 04:50 AM
It seems as though the stage is already being set for the next referendum. Step one work the parents into an emotional frenzy. To make ends meet we will have to have 3 bus schedules with 3 different start and end times. Just imagine what that will do to your work schedules. What can we? You know the state is broke. Springfield is already funding an entire 8 million or so dollars of the school budget. How much more can we expect them to do? Never mind they have millions for projects like under passes for bike paths, rebuilding greenhouses, one room school houses and fountains. Illinois is broke. Look at all the million dollar houses in Elmhurst. People in Elmhurst are rich. They can afford just a little more.
D L February 14, 2013 at 11:12 AM
Then raise the taxes on the family's that have kids in school. STOP the madness on taxing seniors more or people with no children in the schools !
Fine Mess February 14, 2013 at 07:50 PM
@ D L This election season has presented us, as voters, with an opportunity. With three open school board positions up, the electorate has a chance to send a significant message to our schools and tax-grabbing school board members. If you want that message to be one that supports more efficient use of our tax dollars, one that promotes teacher and administration performance along with the importance of class size, one that demands that the board represents the taxpayer, then the choice is clear. Move the incumbents out and get a school board that will get it.
D L February 20, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Get rid of the incumbents. Collins is a control freak. Move him out. Get rid of the incumbents.
Fine Mess March 10, 2013 at 07:28 PM
Collins has got to go! Get Jim Collins off the school board. His record is worthless. He is a control freak as D L suggestsl. He let down the city big time. Collins is hoping that all his missteps about the teacher negotiiations will all remain quiet until after the election. VOTE COLLINS OUT!
Elle M March 10, 2013 at 09:43 PM
The more I hear about Mr. Colliins and the more I hear from him the less I think of keeping him on with our schools. I've tried to keep an open mind. But things just do not add up when he speaks. His comments at the forum were very troubling to me. elle
John Iwaszkiewicz March 10, 2013 at 11:12 PM
The contribution they make is not enough to pay for the actual cost of the pension, especially when you automatically get 4 consecutive 6% raises in your last four years whether you deserve them or not. It is approximately half of what should be contributed for a pension of that scope. As for the administartive overhead, the administration of 205 compares very well with other districts of similar size and would accurately be described as comparatively lean. Start by getting rid of 144,000/year gym teachers.
John Iwaszkiewicz March 10, 2013 at 11:16 PM
NO REFERENDUM. NOT ONE MORE DOLLAR. I agree Peggy. Until teacher salaries and pensions are brought into alignment with the free market we have zero chance to balance the budget.

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