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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 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, as a way to cut about $3 million over three years from the district's budget.  

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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. . 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. 

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After last week's workshop, the board had pushed the decision , following a side-by-side study of the costs and savings involved in closing ,  or  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, 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 . 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.

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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, 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.

What's Next?

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.

Joe Vince February 12, 2012 at 01:00 AM
@informed: I'm not sure why you think my comment only applied to one of the board members. Because it applied to both. If it's because of the timing, well, that's just when I happened to get to the comments. There are times I'm not online. In the past in other stories, I've warned readers about making these types of accusations. This isn't something I just started doing today. This isn't a blog; this is a comments section where readers get to voice their opinions. People have been having a great discussion before this last bit, showing how much they care about the district and the students and staff in it. They might not agree with the board, Supt. Barb Rains or any of the solutions, but that's their right. I've seen commenters police themselves, telling other readers to stick to the topic at hand, and honestly, that's usually helps matters without me stepping in. What doesn't help: Lobbing other accusations and escalating the conflict. Also, I--as well as other commenters--try to correct misinformation to stop it from going further. So I would disagree that this is dangerous and unnecessary. I'm glad you like the coverage. Presenting these contentious issues fairly is what I strive for. If you still want to discuss this, I would suggest we take it offline, and you can e-mail (joev@patch.com) or call me (815-219-6961) to talk about it. Joe Vince Local Editor, Frankfort
Joe Vince February 12, 2012 at 01:56 AM
@My Two Cents: Unfortunately, we had a lot of site problems that night. Sorry about that. I'll be live blogging the Feb. 22 meeting, too. Joe Vince Local Editor, Frankfort
My Two Cents February 12, 2012 at 02:02 AM
@ Rose - Perhaps, I was being too kind and did not single out a specific board member. I did not intend to give the impression that I was blaming the other 6 board members for creating confusion either. Sorry!! This is how I view things. The "board" of education is comprised of 7 elected individuals. Each board member is important and has the same "role". No individual board member is "greater" or "better" than any other board member. No individual board member can give the Superintendent direction, it has to come from the "board" as a whole! When a decision is made by the seven individual board members, it is a "board decision". When the board of education made their decision on Saturday to eliminate FDK and only offer HDK it was a board concensus. A decision had been made and direction was given to the superintendent to proceed in a certain direction. She went with that direction. Then at the board meeting when an individual board member voted a different way, it had a HUGE impact on the previous direction the superintendent was previously given. That is what I feel is wrong. I expect board members to talk and discuss their feelings at the board table. But when a decision is made and you give the superintendent direction you can't change that decision. If board members keep changing their minds at every board meeting over MAJOR decisions we're in trouble! Also, you will always hear that it was a "board decision" not a decision made by board member X.
Rose C February 12, 2012 at 05:25 AM
@ My two cent - I agree. The board had made a decision. I was just pointing out that it is unfair to take issue with the entire board when one board member changed course. You seem to be the first person on this site who doesn't blame specific board members, which should be commended. I have read many a post attacking members of the board specifically or blaming the entire board for actions that took place well before this board (April 2011) was in place. I apologize if you felt like I was attacking you. We need more people that see the entire picture and understand HOW a board works.
My Two Cents February 12, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Thanks Rose!!

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