The is considering millions of dollars in possible budget cuts or fee increases, and while speaking to hundreds of community members Saturday morning, District 210 Supt. Larry Wyllie put the blame squarely on the state.
Parents, students and Lincoln-Way employees filled the auditorium at on Saturday morning for an annual planning meeting the school board has to review revenue and expenditure projections.
Did you miss the meeting? Read Wyllie's presentation in the PDF attached to this article.
Wyllie explained the cash flow for stakeholders and board members before fielding questions, and tried to make his point clear that none of the ideas to cut postions or increase fee is final.
"This is just the start of the process," Wyllie said. "We need some options to at least look at, and that's what we're doing today."
Why is the District Looking at Cuts?
Every January, Wyllie gathers the school board to talk about the budget and various cuts that may be necessary. Over the past three years, the district has made about $8 million in cuts, much of it coming by eliminating personnel, and had to dip into its reserves to cover a gap left by the state.
District 210 got about $9 million in general state aid last year, and that number will drop to $8.7 million in 2011-12. Wyllie projects the aid to continue slipping, projecting about $7.5 million in each of the next five years.
Besides that, Illinois has been behind on making promised categorical payments that fund such things as special educations, transportation and more.
The district has about $24 million in reserves that could be used to supplement the budget, as it has the last few years, but Wyllie and board members acknowledged they can't keep doing that. School districts aim to maintain at least 30 percent of their operating budget in reserves, and currently District 210 has only 24 percent.
With a decline in state funding, the district has tried to keep up but has struggled to do that.
"We can't cut fast enough to keep up with the state," board President Arvid Johnson said.
What Options are Being Considered?
Student Fees: This is one area where the district is looking to potentially increase revenue, and a survey of other area districts was conducted to see what they do.
A couple options considered Saturday were to increase the registration fee from $219 to $269, which could potentially increase revenue by $370,000. The district is also considering a $100 participation charge for athletics and activities, though Wyllie said that's not something he would recommend to the board. If an activity fee were introduced, it could bring in an extra $531,300 annually for the district.
"I don’t think that’s our philosophy, but it’s something we had to look at from a revenue standpoint," Wyllie said. "I would not recommend that to our board. I want them involved in activities because I know they’re going to do better in academics."
The board didn't take any votes at the meeting and voiced concern with the above proposals, but members showed support to reduce fees for zero hour from $500 to $350 and increase summer school fees to $350, aligning the two costs as a way to give students and parents a fairer option to choose either.
Graduation Requirements: Another possibility Wyllie didn't endorse was reducing the number of credits required to graduate from 22 to 20. That would cut between 18 and 23 positions each of the next four years because fewer teachers would be needed. It could save an estimated $1 million in 2012-13, followed by savings of $2.2 million, $3.4 million and $5.2 million.
Parents were concerned this would hurt students' chances of getting into college, but Wyllie was confident it wouldn't impact that. The state requires 16 credits to graduate.
"My son is trying to get into college right now and a lot of them require foreign languages or strict science credits," one parent said.
Wyllie said he did support keeping the required 22 credits but grouping elective categories to give parents and students a choice. Instead of requiring one fine arts credit, one career and technical education credit and two free electives, students could choose any combination of those categories. The board supported this idea and could vote on it at a future meeting.
Teachers from the arts and business departments spoke at the meeting and opposed grouping electives. Julie Johnson, an arts teacher in Lincoln-Way, said she fears some students wouldn't get a well-rounded education if all the electives were lumped into one category.
"To me, the reason we require a fine art is because we recognize how important that is to us as human beings," she said. "Sometimes there's the meat and potatoes of the curriculum, and (fine arts) are seen as the vegetables. We make our kids eat vegetables because they’re good for them, not because they like them. The arts are crucially important for creativity, problem solving and even socially."
Board President Arvid Johnson said it would still be up to parents to sign off on their kids' registration forms, so if they wanted a specific class picked they could do that.
P.E. Waiver: District 210 has requested a waiver from the state that would allow freshman and sophomore who participate in athletics .
If approved by the state, the district could see an annual savings of $285,500 by reducing five to six P.E. teachers each of the next four years. Lincoln-Way P.E. teacher Joanne Holverson said she was alarmed by the idea of a waiver.
"The teenage population is overweight," she said. "Physical education helps them feel better about themselves, which is so important to our teenagers. And sometimes they don't even know they're good at a sport until they take a class and broaden their opportunities."
Closing L-W West: Some parents have proposed closing Lincoln-Way West or heard rumors that was on the table. "That's absolutely not true," Wyllie said. "We're not closing West, and students from Lockport aren't going to come to school here."
What Comes Next?
As Wyllie said at the start of his presentation, this is just the beginning of a long process. His first step will be to watch Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State Address and learn what his plans are for education, because those will impact the local district.
The next District 210 board meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at , and that's open to the public. Wyllie said there are a lot of rumors going around, many of which are untrue, and that if anyone has a question he's happy to answer if they call his office at 815-462-2130.