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District 205 School Board Gives a Reluctant Nod to $1.2 Million in Cuts

After April 10, teachers getting laid off will know who they are.

A 90 minute discussion by Elmhurst District 205 School Board members Tuesday night did not lead to any magic bullet or previously unrevealed secret that would fix the district's budget without painful cuts. On the contrary, it set those cuts in motion.

It's the third consecutive year the district has had to trim the budget. Last year, the district used the Elmhurst Educational Program Review Technique, or EEPRT, to . EEPRT data collected in 2011 was one of the criteria board members used this year when evaluating areas to cut.

While the amount to be cut for 2012-13 is less than last year, about $1.2 million, the cuts are hitting some vital areas.

"If there was anything frivolous, it was cut a long time ago," Superintendent David Pruneau said. "All these positions and programs are critical to our success. (But) we don't have an alternative. Expenditures and revenues are not matching up."

The roadmap for Tuesday's discussion was the recommended "yellow" list of cuts Pruneau and his administrative staff . Items on a white list of alternate cuts also have been bandied about, but the white list proposes eliminating middle school sports, elementary Spanish and elementary instrumental music. Cuts such as these would fundamentally change the district by cutting into "the very things that affect the richness of our community," board member Chris Blum said.

More on the white list later.

The board generally agreed with staff recommendations on the yellow list:

  • utilizing targets as opposed to hard caps for class sizes in grades kindergarten through eight. Savings: $240,000 to $480,000
  • increasing staffing ratio at York. Savings: $300,000 to $360,000
  • eliminating a certified librarian at York (currently, there are two). Savings: $60,000
  • reducing library assistants, assistant coaches, secretarial and other support staff at York. Savings: $140,600
  • eliminating one maintenance position. Savings: $55,000
  • rearranging unified arts and gym at Churchville (reduction of up to two full-time employees). Savings: $60,000 to $120,000
  • reducing by .6 FTE a guidance counselor at Sandburg. Savings: $36,000
  • eliminating middle school library assistants (reduction of 3 FTE). Savings: $90,000
  • reducing elementary music from twice a week (60 minutes total) to once a week (45 minutes), a reduction of 1.4 FTE. Savings: $84,000
  • eliminating middle school transitional Spanish (reduction of .5 to 1 FTE). Savings: $30,000 to $60,000
  • reducing stipends for middle school student council. Savings: $8,140 to $16,280
  • reducing technology budget (hardware and software). Savings: $120,000
  • reduce technology budget (telecom and Internet). Savings $78,000

Total reductions: $1.3 million to $1.7 million

Pruneau said it's important to cut all the way to the $1.7 million mark because cuts on paper don't always translate into the same dollar amount in actuality.

"If you cut this too close and the numbers don't go your way, we may be back here in August," he said. If the cuts end up being more than $1.2 million, items will be added back into the budget.

"We're not going to cut $1.7 million if we don't need it," he said.

Class Size Increases 'Not Tolerated Well'

Board members debated some concepts, like whether physical education was more important than academics, and how increasing class sizes will affect students.

"I just don't want to lose the quality of our elementary education because we've overloaded classes," board member Jim Collins said.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Brad Hillman said having targets rather than hard caps for class sizes will allow for adjustments based on needs at individual schools.

"It is not our intent to have class sizes at the elementary level into the 30s," he said. "We will factor in as many people who know about our students as possible to make informed decisions."

Board member Maria Hirsch reminded the board that the district has made a significant investment over the years in block scheduling and placing more ELL and REACH teachers in the elementary schools. So while class sizes have creeped up, these methods already have augmented classrooms and teachers, Hirsch said.

"I get a lot of positive feedback about that model from teachers," Pruneau added.

Shannon Ebner said EEPRT showed that the community ranks smaller class size as very important, and she's heard complaints from parents about how class sizes have creeped up over the years.

"It doesn't seem the community tolerates that very well," she said, adding that previous increases have all happened at the elementary level, not at the high school.

"I just want it to be equitable across the board, not targeted at a certain age," she said.

At York, class sizes are more difficult to determine. Everything is based on student-to-teacher ratios, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Charles Johns said.

"High school scheduling is very complicated," he said.

Whether electives will be offered or eliminated is driven by student interest. If only a few students sign up for an elective, that class will be canceled, or perhaps several grade levels of students will be taught the class all together.

Board member Karen Stuefen asked why the district is offering new electives during a time of budget cuts.

"Do we really need to do that?" she asked.

Adding new courses keeps the curriculum fresh and increases student engagement, Johns said.

"What holds it all in check are those ratios," he said.

It's Not Over

Hirsch also thanked Technology Director David Smith for cutting another $200,000 this year, on top of the $500,000 cuts in technology in each of the last two years.

Smith said the level of funding after the cuts will be enough to maintain the current equipment and systems, but not add anything new.

But even after this round of cuts, the district's own projections say the board will have to go through the same process again next year, board member Chris Blum said.

"This conversation is going to continue," he said. "Next year, the stuff on the white list will be on the table. I think we should be having that discussion now. I want to engage the community in that discussion now."

Hirsch pointed out that labor costs—salaries and benefits—are the biggest chunk of the district's budget, and they have accelerated at a much faster rate than the consumer price index, which is used to determine tax increases. Other concerns are related to state funding. There's talk that Illinois soon will no longer provide funds for transportation, for example, and local districts may soon have to foot the bill for pension payments.

Blum said he's not interested in the reasons.

"I don't care why it happened. We are going to be in the hole next year according to our own projections," he said. "We have a runway. We see this coming. Let's start a discussion."

Pruneau said any discussion with the community about budget cuts must start with educating constituents on how a budget is developed.

"It's a complicated process," he said.

Board President Susan DeRonne asked staff to look into the best way to begin these conversations with the public. Meanwhile, Pruneau and his staff will start implementing the cuts this week. A list of all certified staff to be laid off must be presented by April 10.

He reiterated that the number of staff cuts represent a "worst-case scenario," and that he was hopeful some of the staff that is let go can be recalled once more detailed budget numbers are known this summer.

"We're hoping we can do some things to bring these positions back," he said.

He also thanked the board and his cabinet.

"I know we're looked at sometimes like the bad guys, but I want the public to know that my cabinet spent hours and hours agonizing over these cuts. I can tell you there were a lot of sleepless nights."

Joe Smith April 11, 2012 at 04:56 PM
I think that you kind find salaries that you don't agree with in any sector of the work force. I know a pharmaceutical Drug Rep that make 150,000 a year with his car paid and has great benefits. Do you not think that salaries like that don't influence the price of medications? Do I think that he deserves that to drive around to doctors offices? Not really, but I have never done that job so I do not TRUELY no how hard he works. It seems like a easy job to me. The same thing all of you think about being a PE teacher or a teacher in general. It is not just teaching, but these people do deserve what they earn and work hard for it. There are always teachers that slip through the cracks and probably just do it for a paycheck. It is like that everywhere you go in any work place. CEO's for example get 100's of millions in retirement benefits that results in higher prices for merchandise and gas. Does anyone complain about that. Not really. Your superintendent is the CEO 'if you will let me use that term" of your school district. His salary is much less than any private sector CEO but we still complain about it. The big picture here is that you kind find fault with anyone's salary if you don't do the job, but go to your school and watch a teacher 1 day even a PE, music, or coach and see what they actually do in that one day with your children. If you want to feel empowered as a tax payer, you have that right.
Joe Smith April 11, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Just don't complain about it unless you see what they do. Alsio, everyone is pointing out the 1% of teachers that make over 100,000. Look at the rest of the salaries, there are no teachers with under 20 years that make that kind of money. Soon those folks will retire with what pension they can still get and the district will get a new teacher and pay them 35,000-45,000 depending on there education. As far as job security, ask all the non-tenured and tenured teachers in Elgin, Rockford, Elmhurst, Plainfield and pretty much every other district in the state how good a teachers job security is these days. There are some perks that teachers have, but it is not all sunshine and rainbows in the public sector either.
David April 11, 2012 at 05:53 PM
I can never agree with the argument of "well, CEOs make $100 Billion dollars a year, so teachers should make more...". I have 2 problems with this argument. The first is that in the free market (private industry without unions) - market forces will determine the pay. If your Drug Rep friends company could find someone to do the job equally well for $50,0000 a year, they would do it. That is just economics. Most public sector jobs don't work that way. Pay and benefits are negotiated through political contributions, legislation, and union negotiations - not job performance. The second problem I have with your argument, I really don't care what CEOs make. I have the option to not support their companies, and buy competing products. Since public workers are paid through my tax dollars, and I don't have the option to not pay taxes, I have a vested interest in where those tax dollars are spent - and thus, public sector salaries and benefits are of direct concern to me. Again, I'm not trying to pick on Elmhurst teachers. If you want an apples to apples comparison, compare Illinois teachers pay and benefits to other teachers in the US. There is an article at: http://www.championnews.net/2012/03/12/why-is-illinoisstop-teacher-salary-108000-more-than-kentuckys/ Some interesting data in the article: Number of teachers with salaries in excess of $100,000/yr. ($11,000/mo.): Illinois = 7,576 Kentucky = ZERO Iowa = 2 Wisconsin = 4 Missouri = 11
Joe Smith April 11, 2012 at 06:33 PM
David: you make good points. But why not then move to KENTUCKY, Iowa, Wisconsin or any other state for that matter? The argument is redundant. You do have a choice of where you spend your money in the public sector. You chose to live in Illinois and educate your children in this state. Our schools have alot more to offer than the Public schools you listed in the mentioned states. Do the research on technology use in schools and Illinois is a leader. I was not sying that teachers should get paid like CEO's either and they defintely do not. I was just saying that you could argue against anyones salary. Do firefighters deserve what they earn because they risk their life? They can make 100, 000 for working 24 hours on and 48 hours off. they actually are on duty less than dreaded teachers. I am not ragging on firemen because I respect what they do, but that is a prime example. Post private sector peoples salaries and I bet you would find some interesting numbers and those numbers always come back to the consumer. Hell, our idiot governor gets paid close to 200,000 Tax payer dollars. Look at G assembly members and their pay. Those are tax dollars also. You choose to live in Illinois.
Joe Smith April 11, 2012 at 06:42 PM
That number 7,576 is small in comparison to 130000 IEA members in Illinois. Many of those top salaries are probably administrators that finished there careers in the classroom. That 7500 number is under 6% of the educators in Illinois make over 6 figures. How many teachers are in Kentucky? Wisconsin? Iowa? Missouri? What percentage make above 6 figures. Again 6% is not too many. Check south of I80 and I bet there is less than 1%. It comes with where you live and CHOOSE to educate your children. I would like gas prices in Illinois to be the same as Kentucky and Iowa or even central Illinois but they are not. I CHOOSE to live in northern Illinois a suffer from higher property taxes and gas prices.

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