The Elmhurst District 205 School Board was met by a sea of blue shirts worn by teachers representing the Elmhurst Teachers Union Tuesday.
With , several teachers spoke about ways to cut spending, and they made pleas to the board to save certain positions as it contemplates staff layoffs.
Librarian positions are on the list of potential cuts. York librarian Vicky Lessard urged the board to think of librarians as teachers and libraries as classrooms, and reminded board members that libraries "suffered deep cuts" during last year's budget cuts.
"We lost 40 to 50 percent of book budgets, 50 percent of the supply budget and electronic research services were canceled," she said.
Another York librarian, Robin Rogers, said she is "dismayed" with the district's recommended budget cuts. She suggested an "energy czar" to ensure energy savings programs districtwide.
Hawthorne second-grade teacher Kristi Pope suggested tapping York students to provide district services, such as auto repair and printing publications, and Jefferson School fifth-grade teacher Lynn Ferris suggested eliminating the office of public relations.
"PTSA and PTA members would be happy to help carry the message of our excellent education program to the press and wider community," Ferris said. She also said the cost for outside accounting and legal services are not justifiable.
And, ETC President Katy Padberg said the district needs to move from its "top-heavy, centralized administrative model to a localized, collaborative, teacher-led team model of management" like that seen in countries like Finland.
But after a presentation on the district's financial future from PMA Financial Network, the board got down to the business of discussing cuts. With the District facing a $1.2 million deficit next year, and potential deficits each of the next five years, staff and program cuts are inevitable, Superintendent David Pruneau said.
The board must have a list of staff positions to eliminate by April 10.
"Certified staff must be (reduced) by that date," he said. "After that, we can't add to that list. Other budget cuts are not under that kind of time pressure."
This is the third consecutive year of budget cuts.
"Following last year's $3 million reduction, the budget reductions we are now facing are significant in the sense that we are going to things that really may effect students and staff," he said. "None have come easy or without a lot of agony from the administrative team."
Pruneau presented a recommended list of cuts (in yellow), and an alternate list (in white).
"I think it gives you a foreshadowing. If we continue to have negative numbers in our budget, even if we adopt all the (recommended) items, you're going to be looking at that alternate list in future years."
The cuts are based on a worst-case scenario.
"After April 10, as we know more about the budget, we may be able to recall some of these teachers back to their positions," Pruneau said.
In grades kindergarten through third, the administration did not look at raising caps on classroom sizes. In grades three through eight, however, the suggestion is to go from caps in class sizes to targets.
"If 27 is the cap, when I get one more student, I have to devote another staff member to create another section in that building for that one student," Pruneau said. "That's very difficult to sustain with these budget numbers. Rather than hard caps, we looked at targets. We may have 27 (in two classes) and one class of 28. We will staff that at three rather than four teachers."
The idea is to look at individual classes and evaluate as the process moves forward based on the nature of the classroom and the particular challenges faced by teachers in certain classes.
Currently, no class section exceeds 27.667 students, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Brad Hillman said.
"If we were to have a hard cap, we would be adding 12 sections in grades three through five," he said. "(Targets) give us some flexibility to make informed decisions about when to add classes."
Last year, staff was added back at Bryan Middle School after the school year started because of increased enrollment, Pruneau said.
"We don't know what's coming ahead," he said. "(These proposed reductions) are a worst-case scenario for an April 10 deadline."
At York, the plan is to create a "tighter ratio" of teachers to students, and some classes may be eliminated due to lower enrollment.
"The ratio will force us to look at classes that may have 10 to 15 students in them as electives, and perhaps not offer those classes next year," Pruneau said.
The plan does call for eliminating one certified librarian, as well as secretarial and assistant coaching positions at York, for a savings of $140,000.
"We'll need to look at the consequences of that, how we will restructure some of those areas," he said. "With the coaching positions, we are not eliminating any sport. We are reducing the number of assistant coaches across the sport."
Also on the list of recommended reductions are:
- one maintenance position, which currently is unfilled
- bringing the unified arts program at Churchville Middle School in line with that at the other two middle schools
- elminating one guidance counselor at Sandburg due to a decrease in enrollment
- reducing the technology budget districtwide
- eliminating middle school library assistants
- reducing elementary school instrumental music from twice a week to once a week
- eliminating or reducing the transitional Spanish program at the middle schools
- reducing the number of middle school teachers who receive a stipend for student council
To continue to reduce the achievement gap districtwide, the plan does not touch reading support or programs for students already at risk for failure, and staff increases actually will be needed next year in the English Language Learners program and special education.
Meg Schnoor, assistant superintendent of student services, said enrollment numbers in those two areas are steadily increasing.
"We are seeing kids with more significant needs all the time," she said.
With numbers in the early childhood special education classes increasing, "that's a good predictor that special education needs will increase for some time to come," she said.
Even more money is spent on the ELL program than special education, she said.
The district has not been providing enough to ELL services to students to be compliant with state regulations, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Charles Johns said.
"They are underperforming as a subgroup," he said. "We need more services and support, additional staff and a special, closer environment to support them."
He said the district needs to add 3.7 teachers to the ELL program at about $60,000 each, per year. Certain ELL classes will require instruction in both the students' native language, as well as in English, providing a bilingual instructional program, according to state mandates.
While Pruneau said he doesn't think the staff and program cuts will yield a dramatic drop in student achievement, "I wouldn't be up here saying this if I didn't think it's going to have an impact. It will have a consequence. That's why this list is so disturbing."
He said data tracking the results of the cuts will not tell the whole story; there is a human factor.
"There are people that make a difference for students," he said. "We risk (laying off) a teacher that really made a difference to someone."
He said as the district becomes more efficient as a whole, he hopes cuts will become less necessary.
"I'll give you an example. We've really held the line on consulting services," he said. "In the past, we had a number of them, paid them significantly. We're doing that in-house now."
He also cited the need to recoup the cost of facility rentals by increasing fees for outside users.
"There will be community push-back," he said. "But I have a really hard time using general fund dollars to fund people using facilities, because that's coming right out of instruction. We're not looking to make a profit, just to make sure we can break even."
Board member Chris Blum suggested the board take a more strategic, long-term look at the budget.
"We're starting to get into music, world language and art," he said. "These are community discussions. There's nothing left that's not going to really hurt."
Pruneau said he worries about increasing unfunded mandates from the state that cause a need for more manpower.
"The ideas that come down, yeah, they sound great. But who's funding that? It's not free," he said. "All public officials have to look at these and say, do we really need this data? Are we collecting data (for the state) because we can, or is it really meaningful? Is it going to change education?"
And, there's the pension funding discussions coming out of Springfield. Shifting the financial burden from the state to local districts, board members say, would be .
The board made no decisions on cuts Tuesday, but Pruneau said he will need clear direction at the next board meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 3.
"What particularly bothers me is that these are staff members who are doing a good job, touching our students, adding quality to our schools," board member Jim Collins said. "Now we're cutting firmly into the muscle of our district. We are looking at cuts that reduce the richness of our curriculum. It's tragic."