Budget Reductions Now Cut into the "Muscle" of District 205; Class Sizes, Programs Will Be Affected

Cuts are "tragic," board member says.

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."

Scott March 22, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Melanie - I believe part of their job is to contain expenses. Given that compensation is the largest expense, it is their job to control that. So, they are just doing their job and as a taxpayer, I support their efforts to control costs. Having said that, I don't disagree that the Board should also be looking at the admin side for reductions. Where I have a problem is with the comments that say or imply that only the admin should have reductions. If the teachers union agreed to take concessions contingent on the admin also taking concessions I would support the union position. However, it is my observation that the cuts always occur for the non-union piece and never the union piece. That's where I have a beef.
Melanie Watkins Gold March 22, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I do agree that some cuts should be across the board from ALL sides, I guess my problem lies is that when the district was threatening layoffs last year the teachers agreed in order to save their coworkers jobs that they would forfeit their raises for that year. I don't believe they should have to do that every year because of poor spending from our district. I have friend as I have mentioned in another post that according to the contract she signed with our district 4 years ago that once she received her masters that she would be compensated for her continued education. The district did not pay for her masters at all but now they don't want to keep with the contract and don't want to compensate her for her further education for 7 years. I see a problem with that, she has had several offers from several school districts and is a sough out special education teacher it would be a shame to lose her or any of our other amazing educators.
Joanna Hoelscher March 22, 2012 at 03:05 PM
I couldn't agree more; Some group of citizens (PTA officials with the assistance of someone who has accounting/financial skills) needs to start looking closely at the expenditures at the central office. Teachers are the backbone of our educational system, not upper echelon management who are overpaid and often not even qualified to be given the jobs they;re assigned. And a public relations director???? What a waste of money that could better be spent in the classroom. And what's with the comments on the pros and cons of Unit Districts? We went thru that battle years ago and decided that we needed to be a Unit District. The state has even discussed the possibility of mandating them because we have too many school districts and other units of goverment in IL (far more than most other states.)
Bunky March 22, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Tim, we should have the option of where our tax dollars go. You're right. If we want to send our kids to other schools them that us where the taxes should go. Even for those who home school, those families should keep their money for the materials to teach their kids. Make it more competitive and see what the schools do when they are no longer the elite one and only
Bill Johnson March 22, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Very thoughtful insights. Sorry I hit the flag button as I was scrolling down. Patch should reinstate this as people need to read your comments. I have to be more careful reading in the future and keep my big fingers off the screen.
Karen Chadra (Editor) March 22, 2012 at 03:55 PM
The financial forecast of the district is based on the tentative agreement that the teachers rejected, just so they have something to use as a starting point. It is true that details of the teacher negotiations are not made public. Right or wrong, negotiations are legally protected under the state's Open Meetings Act. The details are not made public until both sides ratify the agreement. The state is one payment behind to the school district, but it only provides about 6 percent of revenue.
Ken March 22, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Ask 20+ year Board member Susan DeRonne where all of the money has gone. With raises exceeding inlfation for decades, it's no secret. The union has a lot of gall to continue to demand raises and benefits outside the scope of the rest of the economy. Did the District need to spend millions on the HQ building, $30 million on Hawthorne, etc......You reap what you sow....
Scott March 22, 2012 at 04:05 PM
To Karen's comment below: Who do you suppose pushed for and got the negotiation secrecy provision in the Open Meetings Act? I would guess it's the same group that gets many anti-taxpayer proposals pushed into law, the unions. They realized that if the public (i.e. the teachers employers) knew what the positions of each side were, it would weaken the unions position. Keeping it behind closed doors only requires the unions to run roughshod over the Board.
Melanie Watkins Gold March 22, 2012 at 04:18 PM
It looks to me that the board is sitting just fine but our students and teachers are reaping the outcome of their POOR DECISIONS. I can promise this, I will make sure myself as well as the people around me are educated as school board members are elected from here on out.
Bunky March 22, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Melanie, only if people will listen can they get educated. The last referendum my husband and I tried to inform people about it but no one would listen but now some of our neighbors have come back saying they should have not voted for it. We have a lot of people who would rather keep their heads buried in the sand than deal with reality. More ears need to be opened with mouths closed.
Bunky March 22, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Ken....you are bang on!!!!!
Alan Brinkmeier March 22, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Leah, Cuts must be made that have the least adverse impact on student learning. While the Melea Smith PR job is a nice one to hold, in tough times something has to go. Many cuts will happen. In my opinion and in the opinion of others, it is far better to make cuts at a long distance from the classroom rather than closer to the students we need to educate. Talk 205 has been fairly (although not entirely) accurate lately. Nevertheless, ridding D205 of such an administrative postion as Melea Smith's would be a cut that is farther from the key learning capability of students. To that extent I agree with "concerned citizen" mentioned below. No matter how efficiently and productive you might argue is Melea Smith's writing, her position as an extremely highly paid administrator is a position far away from the actual learning interaction of our students in the classroom. And there are those that have expressed the idea that many of the communications from that office of PR have been slanted and one-sided providing a particular "spin" to messages and communcations the District desires to publicize. I am of the opinion the truth is likely somewhere in between those two positions There are many that would gladly assist to improve/increase D205 communications here. That can be done while at the same time we accept the termination of the administrative position held by Melea Smith and the large savings that provides to the benefit of kids. Respectfully, Al Brinkmeier
Deke March 22, 2012 at 10:50 PM
To borrow a phrase from Margaret Thatcher, the problem with public school districts that are browbeaten by teacher's unions is that "eventually you run out of other people's money."
Bunky March 23, 2012 at 02:00 AM
True that Dave!! We will see what this tentative agreement has to offer.
Ken March 23, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Union members (teachers) get tenure after 4 years; pensions indexed to inflation as early as 53 years old; generous health care, dental and pharmacy benefits; 90 days off in the summer; holidays; workshops during work hours; 8am-3pm schedules; tuition reimbursement; all with NO PERFORMANCE ACCOUNTABILITY. they hide behind the "kids and education of your kids" BS as a fascade to avoid real accountability and change. NO WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD DO WORKERS GET THE DEAL THEY GOT. What a joke. Let them strike and fire every one of their greedy butts.
Ken March 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM
right on Dave. Illinois has the largest pension funding shorfall in the country by a mile. Companies arent locating here and qualified workers leave by the thousands every year. The income tax rate went from 3-5%, property taxes are outrageous and more increases are coming.
Ken March 23, 2012 at 02:33 PM
we have been paying more for decades with no performance increase, test scores lag other comparable districts. With no performance management (cant fire teachers after 4 year) more money doesnt fix the problem. the unions have soaked the taxpayers for yearts, its time to stand up and say no more. Let these teachers find jobs in the private sector comparable to what they get today, good luck!
Ken March 23, 2012 at 02:57 PM
nice idea but would increase the cost with duplicate supt's, staff, ops, etc The real key os to reform the system and require perfomance management and eliminate tenure. Giving parents vouchers and letting the free market decide where to send theor kids and tax dollars would fix the sytme. Monoploies never work.
Ken March 23, 2012 at 03:04 PM
implement the voucher system whereby parents can place their kids in the schools they choose and take a big part of their tax dollars with them. the system needs reform. Monopolies never work. ANyone in the private sector knows what happens when employees are protected for life with cushy jobs and no accountability. Its all a big union facade, shame on those who perpetuate it. Look at India amd China, they send highly educated grauates here on visas to take our jobs and livlihoods via BPO and outsourcing. If you dont think asia and their ruthless education and economic systems are a threat, you are sorely misinformed. Our myopic educators are putting all of us and our grandchildren at risk. wake up taxpayers and parents of our children who geat less hours of education and less vlaue per dollar than any country in the world. PS the US now has the highest coproate tax rate at 39.2% in the world, where do you think jbs are going?
Scott March 23, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Following up on Ken's comment below, the following site lists the 100 largest Illinois state pensions as of April 1, 2011. You'll note that there were at that time 5,294 pensions over $100,000 (that I believe will increase in the future based on some formula) and the vast majority of them are teachers or professors (granted most are university level). Still, it is a disturbing list that clearly illustrates that the Illinois governmental pension system is out of control. http://www.taxpayersunitedofamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/Top100April2011.pdf
NancyC March 23, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Right Bunky, and that is called school choice. Too bad the NEA(Teachers Union) is opposed to choice because they would lose their power and monopoly position over our education system.
Dan March 23, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Illinois also doesn't tax private and public pensions. So someone currently working to earn $50,000 pays income taxes on it while someone blessed with a $100,000 of pension income receives it tax free. Doesn't seem quite right to me.
imo March 23, 2012 at 11:43 PM
I love all of the serial posters who are obviously unemployed, under-employed or retired. It's interesting that they have all of the "answers". These are complicated times we live in. There will be tough choices this community will be faced with. You like Elmhurst and its property value? A lot of your value is because of the schools and a thriving downtown. You start cutting programming, people we leave town. Elmhurst 27th out of 34 communities in DuPage for property taxes. Some nimrod said "it's because Elmhurst property values are higher--that's why property tax rate is so low." Tell that to someone who lives in Glen Ellyn! Personally, I value education and understand the importance of my role as a taxpayer and community member. Sadly, I seem to be in the minority these days.
Dan March 24, 2012 at 12:31 AM
imo I'm the nimrod you are refering to. Kind of sad that some posters have to resort to personal insults when others have a difference of opinion.
Dan March 24, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Imo. You seem to be fine with the fact that Illinois is 50th in funding education from the state. I'm not. Even than the average school district in Illinois gets around 28% of their budget from Illinois vs. the less than 7% district 205 gets. I'm working on finding out how this compares to the other school districts in DuPage. According to the booklet sent out last year by the school last year they received 8.25% of their budget from the state. They are actually reducing their share despite Illinois increasing our income taxes substantially. Why is it okay for the state to keep reducing the amount they pay when they already pay almost nothing? Should we wait till the state is only paying 1% and than we will be allowed to point out that it isn't the lack of property taxes that is causing the cuts to district 205 but the lack of funding from the state? Can I still be considered a good citizen than? Isn't that kind of what happened with the pensions? Everyone just kept kicking the can down the road until the whole thing blew up.
Dan March 24, 2012 at 04:09 AM
imo, In another post you stated you pay only $8,000 in property taxes for your 2200 sq ft house and you feel you pay a lot. I pay over $11,000 for a 1900 sq ft house so I guess I pay a whole lot more. When is it okay for me to say I'm paying enough? Is the plan to make Elmhurst and district 205 only for the extremely rich? Is that your vision for Elmhurst? Should all those folks that answer the Citizen Survey year after year saying property taxes are the number one concern just move out? What about the hundreds of people that told a friend of mine who was running for elected office in DuPage County that property taxes are their number one concern. Should they just leave too? I guess its okay to use tax dollars that are suppose to go to the school to subsidize a high end grocery store so folks can by imported wine and cheese for a few pennies less but heaven forbid if homeowners dare say they are paying their fair share. It use to be a business would not only pay their full property taxes and sales tax but also contribute additional funds to the community. Now the new model is for the community to subsidize the businesses. Illinois only pays 7% of the school budget and incremental tax dollars that are suppose to go to the school are going to build high end apartments and stores. It's just so complicated. I guess we better raise the homeowners property taxes. Greedy homeowners!
Joe O'Malley March 24, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Blue t-shirts, what folly. Isn't that one of the chapters in the manifesto How to be a Community Organizer? In addition the D205 Great Communicator aka. Minister of Propaganda's salary and legacy benefit cost have got to go. Just for the sake of fiscal discipline. Nah..never happen!
Sam April 19, 2012 at 06:05 PM
There is nothing complex about this. By far the biggest cost is teacher salary, teacher health care, and teacher retirement. If you want taxes to go down, you have to cut teacher salary/benefits. It's not popular to say, but it's the truth. One data point. I know a teacher who retired at 55 in Barrington and has an 84,000 pension - she's a great person and a great lady. And her community has agreed to pay her 84,000 for the rest of her life. It's simple math. It does not matter if music or art gets cut by 10,000 when a district has thousands of retires getting paid that kind of money. You choose. Pay teachers more. OR Pay less taxes.
Rachel May 05, 2012 at 06:47 PM
I am a student of the 205 district. If you don't believe adults saying how this will impact students then, listen to a actual student. If they make classes bigger that would mean no help. We would get the lesson but, if you don't understand the lesson good luck because the teachers won't have time to help you. If you cut sports; when us students get to high school we will ethier have no experienc eor very little in the sports we tryout for. Just get the older teachers who get paid more for there dedications to the school to retire.
Michael August 13, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Dan, nearly all of your property tax increases go to service all the various pension plans: 1) DuPage County pension fund went up 2) County Health Dept pension fund went up 3) Forest Preserve District pension fund went down (the only one to do so) 4) York Township pension fund went up (why do we need a separate township?) 5) City of Elmhurst pension fund went up 6) Elmhurst Park District pension fund went up (by a whopping 21%) 7) Unit School District 205 pension fund went up (by a whopping 26%) So, of the 7 pension funds that you help support, the cost to maintain 6 of those went up. And two of these did so by massive amounts. As you can see, increasing property taxes may have little or nothing to do with school funding.


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