Reality Starts Sinking In

Sobering thoughts from 99, deafening silence from 58.

I’ve written in the past how 99 seems to have more on the budget ball than 58.  Kudos to 99 Super Mark McDonald for a cold and bold laying out of the facts, and possible ways to blunt the impact of recessionary budgets.

So where is 58 on this very important problem?  Should we blame this inept inactivity on Scott O’Connell, too?

Here’s about all 58 has to say about budgeting, near the bottom of this page  from their website:

Attain Fiscal Integrity

Systemically establish a plan to address the long-term financial needs of the District by:

  • Working through the Financial Advisory Committee to increase community understanding and program options,
  • Continuing to utilize an outside consultant to analyze the District’s financial status,
  • Exploring various long-term funding plans and related implications of each,
  • Putting into place a funding plan for the District’s future building/infrastructure needs,
  • Reviewing with the intent to enhance the reporting of financial information.

The Finance Advisory Committee is being led through the paces still, cautiously avoiding facing up to the real problems 58’s budget faces.  They cancelled two of their first three 2009 meetings.  The most recent agenda looks like makework, not real work.

If nothing else, can we flush the 58 employees off this beast and put in some more parents and people willing to take a hard look at the numbers?  Willing to make some hard decisions leading to recommendations to the administration for a good budget that the board can approve or not approve?

If 58 were a person, we’d have an intervention for it.  As it stands, I’m no longer certain they even think anything is going wrong.

Our other school district administration, 99,  is awake, cognizant, and at work doing something already, planning for bad times coming.

From McDonald’s prepared statement (added emphasis is mine):

Budget planning for 2009-2010 is well underway

2/24/2009

As we begin intensive planning for the 2009-2010 school year, we do so with the understanding that our financial situation has changed significantly from our financial projections of September 2008.  At that time, we predicted, based upon conservative estimates of our economic indicators that the 2009-2010 school year would conclude with a budget surplus of approximately $250,000.  By January 2009, it was evident that our revenues would be as much as $1 million less than projected due to the downturn in the economy and all that surrounds it and thus began the process of finding ways to reduce our anticipated budget.

As we commenced this work, it was with the understanding that we needed to protect the instructional program in place including the support systems we have recently added to promote student achievement.  We are obligated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to improve the academic performance of our students each year.  The new Response to Intervention (RTI) legislation also requires that we provide a structured system of interventions to students who are not succeeding. Many people will recall that District 99 made several million dollars in reductions and increased fees in 2005 that went into affect for the 2005-2006 school year.  For the most part, the District has not added those reductions back into the budget nor reduced its fees, thus current reductions must affect other areas of the budget.

To date we have identified approximately $750,000 of budget reductions and are still looking.  I presented these at the Feb.  23 Board of Education meeting. These reductions were as follows: 1) eliminating busing routes for students to Benet and Montini High Schools, 2) bulk purchasing for custodial/maintenance supplies, 3) reducing staff development costs, 4) reducing building budgets, 5) replacing retired teachers with less  experienced teachers, 6) limiting text book purchases to those covered by the Illinois Textbook Loan Program, and 7) reducing driver education sections.  We also shared with the board that we are looking at reducing costs in other areas such as energy consumption, program costs, costs associated with mailing, and reducing staff costs through attrition.  Also, given the Consumer Price Index-Urban has been established at 0.1 percent for 2009, local revenues for the 2010-2111 school year will grow very slightly, thus necessitating further reductions as we plan for the future.  However, mindful of our goal to minimize cuts that will directly impact students in the classroom, the Board also voted at its meeting Feb. 23 to maintain the same staffing ratio of teachers to staff as it has presently.

Among several of the reductions that have caused considerable angst is the elimination of bus service for students attending Benet and Montini High Schools.  District 99 has offered this service, transporting students from bus stops directly to both private school campuses for a number of years.  The cost to the District this year is approximately $175,000.  We are not legally required to provide direct busing service to the community’s private school students, albeit we are required to allow private school students to ride buses to North and South campuses.  We are also one of the few school districts in the area that provides direct bus services to private high school students attending schools outside the District’s boundaries.

The administration considered eliminating this service in the past–during the budget reduction process in 2005 and again in the summer of 2008, for example–but did not bring a recommendation to the Board, believing it was valued by the families and students in the community that used it and anticipating a brighter economic situation in the future.  At this time, with our need to reduce our costs substantially, and with much uncertainty about the level of reductions we may ultimately need to make, the administration made the recommendation to the Board in January to discontinue this service.  We also notified the administrations of Benet and Montini that we would discontinue bus service in its current form at the end of the school year.

We are very mindful of the burden this may cause to some families whose children attend private high schools.  It is likely that many of the budget reduction recommendations/decisions we make will affect members of our school community adversely.  Our goal is to provide for the needs of the students we are currently serving first, including our obligations to improve their academic achievement and outcomes.   Meeting this goal involves hard choices, of which we have many more ahead in the coming months.

Thank you for your continuing support of District 99.

Sincerely,
Dr. Mark McDonald
Superintendent

That’s a hard edged realistic state of the district address.  he makes no bones that cuts cannot effect student performance. but nonetheless cuts will have to be made.  And not just this year, very possibly next year too.  It isn’t good news, but it’s accurate news: taxpayers are grown ups, we can deal with bad but accurate.

Know what?  A unit school district is starting to look pretty good, K-12.  We have an elementary school district that has a dysfunctional board, a long term interim Super, buildings fixed only by borrowing money we don’t have, and raises made to administration personnel that were clearly unwarranted based on performance.

This has got to stop, and anyone running for 58’s board better have an idea how to stop it, or at least enough of a commitment to the education of our kids that they will try and stop it.  Because right now, 58 is veering towards a cliff blindered by a warped “Kids First” mantra that pays no honest consideration to kids being the first or highest priority.

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2 Responses to “Reality Starts Sinking In”

  1. Montini Parent Says:

    I was rudely told District 99 will no longer be providing “chauffeurs” for private schools, a service “we aren’t required to do anyway”. As someone who pays high school taxes without using the schools, providing buses is a small expense.

  2. markthoman Says:

    There’s more of a discussion over at DGreport on the topic.


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