A lot of moving parts are involved in shaping the financial future of Elmhurst Unit District 205: Will the district have to from the state? Will the district be able to pass a referendum that will allow and repaired? Where else can the belt be tightened after consecutive years of ? What will enrollment numbers look like in future years?
But one thing is certain: "Our financial model is not sustainable as it stands now," Superintendent David Pruneau told the District 205 Finance and Operations Committee Thursday.
That's why district officials are looking into forming a citizens advisory committee to provide input on both short-term goals, like where next year's budget cuts can be made with the least impact on students, and long-term initiatives that involve fundamental, structural changes to the way the district does business.
"The purpose of this group will be to provide input on where to allocate resources," Assistant Superintendent of Finance Chris Whelton said.
This group of 40 or 50 citizens will first be taught all the ins and outs of district operations in four categories: short- and long-term facility management, technology, curriculum and finance.
This is "Finance 101, 102 and 103" all at once, Pruneau said. They will learn all about state standards and core curriculum, where the budget is likely to fall apart and what the maintenance and needs are for each and every building.
If that sounds like an intimidating job, it is.
"It's not like people will be lining up" to join this committee, Pruneau said.
The group can expect meetings twice a month in October, November and December, he said. They will then bring their recommendations to the board in January, in time for the board to make decisions on staff reductions.
"I think it's going to be pretty intense work," he said.
However, this is strictly an advisory group, he added. Once members have a strong understanding of district operations, they can begin to tackle budget cuts in broad terms.
"People are going to be reluctant to get involved in this (If they are) set up to be the bad guys," he said. "If I'm John Q. Public, I don't want any part of that."
He compared the advisory committee to the Elmhurst Educational Program Review Technique the district modeled a couple of years ago. The goal of EEPRT was to learn what the community values most in education and how to maintain those things in light of big budget cuts. But the process was confusing and fragmented for those who participated, Pruneau said.
To preserve continuity, the advisory committee would meet as one group and discuss all four topics in depth, rather than breaking into multiple groups like EEPRT participants did.
Finance Committee member Chris Blum emphasized participants will take their duties further than EEPRT, by looking at the district's long-term structural deficit and devising a plan for three or four years down the road.
Committee members will learn the limits of what the district can and cannot do, then take what they have learned to a broader audience: the Elmhurst community at large.
"I always hear, 'Why doesn't the district do X'? We'll bring them in and say, 'We thought of that, but here's the problem,' " Pruneau said. "Then (advisory committee members) will have an answer when they get those questions from neighbors and friends."
The committee, which will be formed in September, will be made up of professionals with expertise in various areas, as well as parents, grandparents, representatives from community groups and others.
"The broader the audience going out with an understanding of how we run District 205, the bigger the benefit," Pruneau said. "It's transparency."
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