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D161 Board Chooses Cost-Cutting Route, Drops Full-Day Kindergarten

Summit Hill school district takes the first step in creating a financial plan to cut about $3 million over three years. This direction emphasizes an array of cuts but will not close schools or put a referendum on this November's ballot.

Throughout the months long process of planning the financial future for Summit Hill School District 161, board of education members have made it known that the district faces difficult challenges, but that's why they were elected: To make the tough decisions.

And Saturday's workshop underscored just how tough those decisions are as members passionately debated cuts before deciding to adopt .

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That model, , would shave a little more than $1 million in 2012-13 as part of the first step in a three-year plan to cut $3 million from the district budget.

Here are some of the areas the model focuses on:

  • Eliminate activity bus routes
  • Cut club stipends for grades 1-4
  • Drop full-day kindergarten
  • Administrative restructuring

This model also factors in $210,000 of technology infrastructure updates and other costs that need to be implemented.

The only part of the original proposal that was altered was a line item to increase class-size maximums, which was removed from consideration by board members who felt such a change would have a negative educational effect on students.

The projected savings from this model is slightly less than the $1.4 million board President Mary Kenny wanted to cut from the 2012-13 budget. But the choice of this model gives Superintendent Barb Rains a direction to move forward as she begins to build that budget. As that process continues, Kenny said, board members will continue to look at expenses to reduce that aren't detrimental to district students.

Although the other proposed models weren't chosen by the board, they weren't completely abandoned either. Their status is as follows:

  • Closing schools: Board members decided not to close any schools for the 2012-13 school year. The district will do a side-by-side study of the costs and savings involved in closing , or schools. The study will examine transportation, staffing, operations and enrollment.
  • Referendum: This will not be put on the November ballot, but the board could revisit the option over the next two years. Before going to referendum, the board needs to show the community that it has cut as much as it can out of the budget before asking residents to pay more in taxes, said board member Sean William Doyle, expressing a sentiment that was echoed by the other board members.

The biggest point of contention for members was the elimination of full-day kindergarten. Board members George Perros, Stacey Borgens and Denise Lenz strongly opposed excising the program, arguing such a cut would be harmful to the early development of district students.

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Perros said he wanted to look at administrative salaries and the district's outside contracts to see if fat could be trimmed from those areas before getting rid of full-day kindergarten.

But any additional cuts Perros and other board members could find should go toward lowering the district's overall deficit in addition to dropping the full-day program, said board Vice President Joy Murphy, adding that the board needs to be fiscally responsible, trimimg as much as possible without hurting student learning. Although she thinks full-day kindergarten is a good program and hates to see it dropped, Murphy said the district could do just as good a job educating children with the half-day program.

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Summit Hill is one of only three districts in the area-- and Kirby School District 140 in Orland Park are the other two--that still offers full-day kindergarten, Rains said.

As a compromise, Lenz suggested adopting a tuition-based, full-day kindergarten program. Under this idea, parents would foot the total cost of putting a child in full-day kindergarten, and that fee, which could run more than $1,000, would need to be paid in full at registration. Currently, the registration fee for full-day kindergarten is $150, and half-day costs $125. The yearly average cost to educate a student in the district is $8,148.

This option will be put on the agenda for the board's Feb. 8 meeting, and Rains and the district staff will break down the costs and savings of this proposal for the board before the meeting to check its feasibility.

Although it is a better alternative than eliminating full-day kindergarten completely, Borgens said a tuition-based program would punishe families who unable to afford it.

A decision to institute a tuition-based program would need to be made quickly because kindergarten registration begins Thursday, Feb. 9.

Over three years, the district's flexible financial plan would look at the following:

  • Negotiating new teachers' contract, which expires next year
  • Possible wage freezes and benefit reductions for administrative and support staff 
  • Possibly selling land behind  in 2013-14
  • Refinance construction bonds, which are callable in 2014-15

Other News of Note From the Workshop

  • In an interview after the meeting, Scott Smalter, the president for the district's teachers union, said it's possible that the union could renegotiate its contract before it expires next year if it could prevent possible teacher lay offs (staff reductions are part of the model, but the specifics have not been detailed). The idea has been brought up, but he hasn't heard from the district about it, he added. Opening the contract "would be a nightmare," but he wouldn't rule out bringing the idea before the executive board.
  • During public comments before the meeting, Kassidy Champlin, a 14-year-old Summit Hill Junior High School eighth-grader, presented the board a petition with 105 student signatures, requesting the board create a community financial advisory committee. Another community member also presented a similar petition--this one with more than 300 signatures. Look for a story next week about Champlin and why she gave up her Saturday morning to listen to the board talk about district finances.
  • Eliminating the full-day kindergarten program could potentially leave Dr. Julian Rogus School with one principal, Rains said after the meeting. . Michael Ruffalo is the school's principal. The school would probably go to one principal even if the board decided to create a tuition-based, full-day program, Rains added.
  • As part of administrative restructuring, the board will look at putting one principal in charge of Arbury Hills and Frankfort Square schools, Rains said, adding that the principal would commute between schools.

  • The district will put together a transportation study this year to examine bus routes of less than 1.5 miles and seeing if there are savings to be gained in that area.
  • The board will hold a March workshop that will deal exclusively with district curriculum issues.

The blog transcript of the meeting can be read above. A PDF that outlines the basics of the streamlining model is in the media gallery.

YOUR TURN! What do you think about the financial direction the board is taking? What questions do you still have? Tell us in the comments section and don't forget to take our poll.

hugetaxbill February 08, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Coming from (full time working) parents of twin 5 year olds that would be starting kindergarten in the fall, if this half day program is passed, we would probably pay to put our kids in a private full day kindergarten somewhere and then the school would get nothing for our kids from the state. What would be our incentive to have our kids shipped back and forth from half day kindgarten to a daycare facility and still be paying about the same? Also, they won't get the same advantage of a full day kidergarten class in a private school! Whereas I could pay to have my kids put in a private school that would pay more attention to them, have them the entire day and they would probably get a better education for slightly more. I pay a bundle in taxes here as I am sure a lot of you do, I would still pay a little more for a good education for our kids whether my kids are enrolled or not. Good schools are the reason we moved here and that is what makes this area desirable to a lot of people. Why did Mary Drew recently get renovated if the district couldn't afford it? Now you are thinking of closing it? Who is handling our money? I think we should all take a good look at who is on the board here! This is not just state money that is causing all of our districts problems. If the FDK program is not reinstated, our kids will go to private school.
hugetaxbill February 08, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Why are there no kindergarten classes at all of the elementary schools? Why does it have to be only at Rogus? IF all of the Kindergartners were separated and put into their respective 1-4 schools, would we need a Kindergarten principal? DId anyone even discuss this at the board? Do we have the room at these elementary schools for this?
taxpayer February 08, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Here is what makes no sense and is a double standard. A big beef with some of the board members is that changes to meetings, or what is put on the adjenda requires 24 hour notice. Mainly, Sean Doyle complains that he is only given 23.5 hours notice. WHY is it acceptable for them to only give parents say.....5 hours notice before cutting into our childrens education?? Figure the meeting starts at 7pm and12am is the next day, and where parents can jump online and register their kids for kindergarten. The Board members are a bunch of hypocrites.
hugetaxbill February 08, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Did you know that renovating the Mary Drew school cost around $39 million? This was completed just a few years ago . . I'm sure we wouldn't have to cut any programs if they didn't renovate a closed school just to possibly close it again! WE NEED TO ATTEND THE MEETING TONIGHT AND SEE WHO IS IN CHARGE OF OUR MONEY AND WHERE IT IS GOING! Our little 5 year olds have a right to the same education as the children before them!!
Connie February 08, 2012 at 09:22 PM
I absolutely agree that our kindergarteners have the right to the same excellent education that the children before them did. Does this district want to pay more for reading specialists, iep evaluations and have lower test scores, because it will happen and our kids will slip through the cracks, Then who is going to come up with that money! Us with a referendum? Wake up!

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