District 202 School Board Backs Off Deficit Plan to Cut More Than 85 Jobs

Instead, board members -- in a split vote -- opted to use $5.7 million in federal funding to avoid the staff cuts proposed by the superintendent.

The board eliminated 12 Reading Recovery specialists and 15 differentiation specialists Monday night, but voted to use the federal jobs stimulus money to save nearly all other jobs that were proposed to be cut.

In a 4-3 decision, the board voted to reinstate the jobs that Supt. John Harper had as a way to erase the district’s $6.7 million budget deficit.

According to Harper’s original proposal, 112 jobs would be eliminated, including instructional technology specialists, deans, secretaries and nurses.

Harper and the district administration also recommended using a $5.7 million grant from the federal education jobs bill for salaries and the resulting unbudgeted and local funds generated from the grant to pay down a land debt, which would save the district money in the future.

The district’s financial advisers are predicting budget deficits through at least 2016, and using federal money to save jobs now could mean a larger future deficit.

Jobs cut Monday include 12 Reading Recovery specialists, who assist elementary students with one-on-one intense reading help. The district has been in the process of transitioning to a new program called Guided Reading Plus, in which reading specialists work with small groups of students. The cuts saved about $805,000.

Also eliminated were 15 differentiation specialists who help gifted students. Like Reading Recovery, the district is transitioning to a new model of providing accelerated curriculum at the elementary school level. The cuts saved about $1 million.

The board also approved a triple-tier busing system that, in turn, changes schools hours at a savings of about $600,000; approved 5 percent budget cuts to departmental and schools’ budgets at a savings of $356,000, and said that any vacancies that arise will become part of the reduction process.

Board members Stuart Bledsoe, Michelle Smith, Rod Westfall and Roger Bonuchi voted yes for the changes; board members Eric Gallt, Michael Kelly and Dave Obrzut voted no.

Gallt said this is the second year the board has failed to act on the administration’s budget cut recommendations and the deficit is continuing to grow. He said the $5.7 million in stimulus funds could have helped put the district on better financial footing, which would have saved more jobs in the long run.

The taxpayers will be asked to fund the decisions the board could not make, he said.

“I believe this is going to be a sad day for the district,” Gallt said.

Obrzut said that based on the state’s poor record of providing effective funding for school districts, he does not believe the district will see any new money anytime soon.

“I’m in favor of the long-term stability of the district,” he said. “I do not want to see anyone lose a job but the financial hardship we are in now calls for drastic measures.”

Even though many jobs were saved Monday, it may be only for one year as the federal grant money is a one-time non-renewable revenue source.

Board members cautioned that the future still looks bleak.

“There was no victory here tonight,” Bledsoe said.

Suzanne March 02, 2011 at 04:13 AM
I so agree with you Cathy. It burns me that my tax dollars go to teach English to immigrants (likely illegal) in the district. Learn English by immersion in an English speaking classroom, not by coddling them in their own language. I think most people agree with this point of view, but we are afraid to voice it because the left wing liberals will attack it as being "intolerant". Bull***t, it's my tax money, don't waste it on people who can't bother to learn English.
JUDI CONDON March 02, 2011 at 06:41 PM
I was appauled by the email that Hernandez sent out yesterday morning.. hitting reply to all rather than to the one person he claimed to have been replying to. I have had and still have a student in this district and must say my last child is not happy he will have to start his senior year at 7 a.m. everyday! I certainly hope that by the time my grandchildren start elementry school we have new district administrators!
Jay March 02, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Exactly - pay down the debt. Public Schools are not a 'jobs program' no matter how much the Democratic Party would like them to be. This is just spending millions of dollars to kick the can to next year, when there won't be any more federal funds to help bridge the gap. We're not building schools and the community is no longer growning - there won't be any referendums getting passed any time soon. Pay down the debt now, make some teachers take early retirement, if others lose there jobs.......so be it.
Michael Ciric March 02, 2011 at 10:03 PM
I have had many a conversation regarding the top-heavy administration, the justifying of Dr. Harper's salary and benefits as well as the smoke and mirrors nature of describing school funding. I have also disagreed with Mr. Hernandez on many occasions . But, I must also say this. Mr. Hernandez is a parent just like us and has always treated me with respect. If there was an occasion to man up and apologize - he did. I would think we could all collectively understand that there are no easy answers to what is going on. Most of the problem is our DEADBEAT STATE and I suggest that given the voter turnout numbers in Plainfield Township and beyond that people get off their backsides and vote. Apathy isn't a solution and neither was letting Quinn into office very smart. I say lets keep it in perspective.
Concerned Taxpayer March 03, 2011 at 06:18 PM
I thinked Mr. Hernandez missed the point of the email. The person suggested that the Superintendent lower his pay in order to save jobs. She didn't say he wasn't worth the money. This points to the option of reducing everyone's pay and benefits rather than massive layoffs. I wonder if the District has pursued negotiating with the collective bargaining units to lower pay and benefits in order to save jobs. I know other school districts have received concessions from the unions in order to save a peoples livelihood. It certainly is the democratice think to do. I think the Superintendent would show great leadership by reducing his pay and benefits. Concerned citizen


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