ANALYSIS: What's Cut, What's Not in the D161 Budget
After Wednesday's meeting, which brought back full-day kindergarten, Patch outlines how this affects the district's overall plan to reduce its budget.
Toward the end of Wednesday's Summit Hill School District 161 board of education meeting, board member Denise Wildeveld asked out loud what cuts had actually been made to trim the district's budget deficit.
It's a reasonable question given how quickly the district's financial landscape keeps shifting each time the board meets. Earlier in the meeting, board members reversed a decision they made at a budget workshop last week to eliminate full-day kindergarten as a way to cut about $3 million over three years from the district's budget.
Patch has put together what's been discussed at board meetings and in interviews with board members to give readers a look at what the district's current budget picture looks like.
How Much Needs to be Cut and How Much Has Been Cut?
That's the million dollar question. Or rather the $1.4 million question, the amount the board wants to cut this year. But at last week's budget workshop, the board only came up with a little more than $1 million in cuts. Now that the board is no longer cutting full-day kindergarten, which was projected to give the district a $450,000 savings, that amount is now closer to around $500,000.
But that's a guess at best. Wildeveld at Wednesday's meeting asked Supt. Barb Rains to provide the board within the next few days the exact amount of reductions the board has made.
What Cuts are Off the Table?
Thanks to Wednesday's vote, full-day kindergarten is no longer one of the programs being cut. Also, board President Mary Kenny requested that discussion to reconsider eliminating reading specialists be put on the agenda for the board's Feb. 22 meeting. Bringing back the reading specialists would take away about another $250,000 in cuts, raising the amount of reductions that still needed to be made for this year to be closer to $750,000.
What Cuts are Still On the Table?
From the talk from board members, it appears everything else is back up for consideration. In fact, board member Sean William Doyle warned Wednesday that the board was holding up too many programs as "sacred cows" and effectively boxing itself in when it came to budget cuts.
After last week's workshop, the board had pushed the decision to close at least one school to next year, following a side-by-side study of the costs and savings involved in closing Mary Drew, Frankfort Square or Arbury Hills schools. If a school were to be closed, it wouldn't happen until the 2013-14 school year.
Kenny now has put the closing of as many as two schools for the 2012-13 school year on the agenda for the Feb. 22 meeting. Closing two schools would give the district an estimated savings of about $1.18 million, according the projections provided by Rains and her staff.
Although it's an option no one wants to necessarily pursue, a referendum for an education fund increase could now be put on the November ballot. However, the fact that 77 percent of district taxpayers don't have children in Summit Hill schools makes the possibility of it passing difficult. Wildeveld said Wednesday if the board continues to back away from cuts, this is the direction the district is heading.
One other cost-saving action that was taken out of consideration last week was increasing class-size limits. Board members said raising these maximums by as much as three students would have a detrimental effect for students. No one specifically addressed Wednesday whether this would be reconsidered, but it's a safe bet that increasing the maximums will be back up for discussion.
What About This Talk of Finding Savings in Other Areas?
The board members who supported keeping full-day kindergarten--Stacey Borgens, Denise Lenz and George Perros--have stated they feel confident that there are still some places where more cuts could be made. Lenz and Perros have both said more reductions could be found in the administrative line item in the streamlining model. In fact, Borgens said she's passed along about $320,000 in suggested cuts, mostly in the administrative area, to Rains.
Perros also said he wants to try to renegotiate some of the district's business contracts. One in particular he wants to look at is the $540,000 Johnson Controls contract for air and heating.
But not all the board members are convinced that there really are hidden savings that haven't already been explored.
"I can't see wasting time trying to look for these cuts because we've identified all the cuts we can make for now," Kenny said.
Are There Any Other Options That Could be Considered?
Doyle said Wednesday the board could look at reopening the teachers' contract, citing comments Scott Smalter, the president for the district's teachers union, made to Patch that it's possible the union could renegotiate its contract before it expires next year if it could prevent possible teacher lay offs. And staff reductions are possible "big-ticket items" that the board unfortunately needs to consider, Doyle added.
Right now, it's waiting until the board's Feb. 22 meeting when the board will discuss closing schools.
YOUR TURN: What do think the board still needs to consider to reach its goal of cutting at least $1.4 million this year? Tell us in the comments section.