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Harper: Education Funding Changes Could Cost District 202 Millions

District 202 Superintendent John Harper's final community column of the year.

Though the work of public education is never officially “done,” the 2011-12 school year is now complete.

So this is a good time to both look backward to what was, and forward to what might be. 

students and staff once again achieved excellence in many ways this year, both in the classroom and out. There are too many to mention, but here are a few of our numerous accomplishments: 

  • Our standardized test scores remained high overall, even as the state and national government move to change the learning standards and assessments. About 82 percent of all students met or exceeded state learning standards on all tests in 2011 – up 16.8 percentage points from 2003-2004
  • Our students recorded the district’s highest composite score ever on the ACT college entrance exam.
  • We saw a record-high number of both AP Scholars (134, up 29 percent from last year) and Illinois State Scholars (213, up 26 percent from last year)
  • Several staff members earned significant honors for their achievement

Of course, this kind of news is always welcome. Helping our students do well and celebrating our staff winning accolades is exactly why every educator got into the profession.

Professional educators enjoy nothing more than knowing that they have been good stewards of the community’s resources by helping our students and staff learn more, grow and succeed.

Sadly, that’s not our reality these days – at least, it’s not our entire reality.

For several years now, the Illinois public education system has struggled with the effects of the weak economy, and the resulting impact on state education funding. 

This year was no different, as many school districts including our own once again faced multi-million dollar deficits and had to cut personnel, programs or both. 

District 202 eliminated 64 full-time equivalent teacher, support staff and administrative positions this year. Teacher pay was frozen for a year, following pay freezes for both support staff and administration. Since 2009 we’ve cut nearly 400 teacher, support staff and administrative positions to save about $45 million.

Unfortunately, next year does not look any better. Legislators are debating several major changes to education funding as a way to help close the state’s own budget shortfall. These options will also cost local school districts potentially millions of dollars by further limiting funding for general state aid, transportation and teacher pensions.

In our case, the options being discussed could cost upwards of $20 million to $30 million a year.

That is why it is so important that we take every opportunity to publicly honor and celebrate our successes. Despite the many challenges our students and staff face – few of which they created or can solve – our teachers continue to help our students grow and succeed academically and personally.

Public education remains the greatest example of the American Ideal, serving all students regardless of their socioeconomic, educational, racial or ethnic status, giving children of every background access to opportunities that they might not otherwise have.

That commitment to every child anchors everything we do today, and steadies us against whatever may come tomorrow. 

Thank you for a good 2011-12. With your help and support, we’ll have a great 2012-13. Together, we will continue to prepare learners for the future.  

Dr. John Harper

Superintendent of Schools

Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202

Plainfield Resident June 01, 2012 at 03:12 PM
What if Plainfield School District followed the example of New Lenox Schools? They seem to have it down - they have awesome programs, different philosphies and it's NOT all about $$$. It's about the student, the individual. Their main concern are the kids....one could learn how to be successful by following their lead and begin by breaking off of such a HUGE district. Separate into two different divisions (Elementary/Middle School and then Highschool). Have Kindergarden Centers, keep the young ones away from 5th graders, which isn't good for their maturity level or growth. Have Elementary grades 1-3, Intermediate 4,5,6 and Middle School 7-8 then Highschool. Keep these kids separated for purposes of growth and achievement, keep them w/in their own age groups and levels. Again, take the path that New Lenox has. If I had known, I would NOT live in the Plainfield School District.....it has been a HUGE disappointment as long as I've been here (10 yrs). Someone needs to do something here!
Lisa S. June 02, 2012 at 12:31 AM
And how much would you be willing to pay for that if it's not about the money? My tax bill is almost at 5 figures now. And I have kids in Plainfield schools. I cannot imagine how angry I would be with the cost if I did not. But, for the amount I pay to the school district every year I could send my kids to private school. We have too much administration and not enough common sense.
Pat Kiss June 02, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Plainfield Employee Who do you think you are kidding? It is ALL about scores, to put a feather in YOUR cap and make other Administrators look good. It is shameful that teachers CANNOT provide for students personal growth because they are too stressed out by the Administration's pressure for "scores". Pathetic. . .not the reason I became a teacher.
Pat Kiss June 02, 2012 at 02:35 AM
OOPS! Although I do feel there is far too much emphasis on standardized test scores, and too much stress put on teachers, I did not intend to come across so aggressively. I apologize for the tone of my comment above.
Face in the Crowd June 03, 2012 at 09:51 PM
It is saddening that District 202 has had to cut over 400 positions since 2009, but some of that could have been avoided if the School Board had made better money management choices, like restructuring and paying down outstanding debt when one-time government money was made available, and sticking to the terms of the deficit reduction plan.

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