Four candidates for three seats on the North Shore School District 112 board discussed budget cuts and other issues, including school boundaries and the dual language program, at a at the Highland Park Country Club.
also discussed technology expenses, consolidation and the role of the school board before more than 300 people during their 40-minute debate on March 6.
Ross was the only one to offer a specific suggestion when asked about the $2.7 million in cuts in the next year's budget for running the 12 elementary to middle schools. She recommended reductions in custodial services and energy usage while the other candidates spoke in generalities.
“Cuts that affect student education the least should be done first,” Ross said. “Cuts perhaps in custodial duties [are a possibility]. I would also love to see the district reduce energy expenditures, which would be good for our budget and good for the planet.”
Cohn said the cuts would be less—between $1 million and $1.7 million—with the balance of the deficit being plugged with reserves. Teacher salaries are not a current issue because they are governed by a union contract that does not expire for 18 months.
“The district’s expenses are going up much higher than our revenues,” Cohn said. “Seventy percent of the district’s budget is covered in teachers’ salaries, benefits, and then we add another 10 percent for infrastructure and there’s not a lot of room for cuts.”
Hyman, the only incumbent running for re-election, spoke with pride about the District 112’s past budget management and the use of ample reserves to balance finances, but acknowledged the next school year would be different.
“This year I asked the administration to put every issue on the table,” Hyman said. “Not issues that they felt were appropriate, but every one, every teacher, every principal, every administrator has put input into this.”
Tatelli wants to take look at all possible scenarios with input from everyone involved with the budget process.
“I’m glad to see the teachers and the faculty are involved in terms of balancing the budget,” Tatelli said. “Infrastructure changes would need to be done in a systemic way across the entire district through strategic planning.”
When asked about redrawing school boundaries, none of the candidates offered anything specific for the individual schools. However, Hyman pledged to “keep everything on the table” as he did on budget issues. He also suggested different definitions of neighborhood.
“It [neighborhood schools] can be defined as the children who go to a particular school who seek a program like the dual language program,” Hyman said. “They don’t live in that community but they call that school their neighborhood school. You have to always look at everything on the table.”
Cohn considers boundaries an important issue but one to remain on the back burner while other topics are resolved. He expressed concern for the students, suggesting a desire to keep children together as they move from the grade school to middle school.
“We have to look at all of the other issues before we jump to such major changes. We want to minimize the negative impact on the children,” Cohn said.
Tatelli sees new boundaries as part of the district’s overall five-year strategic plan. He also wants input from the community to go into any changes in the borders. He thinks busing and overall transportation costs are important elements to consider.
“There are several factors that would go into even justifying some sort of boundary change,” Tatelli said. “Community input is also a key piece. How does the community also benefit? That’s where the neighborhood school piece plays in.”
While Ross was quick to offer specific examples of budget cutting, she was much less precise on the issue of school boundaries. While emphatically saying she favored neighborhood schools, she said it was a “complicated issue” for the district, which has more than 4,000 students.
“Boundary changes are linked to difficulties for several of the schools. The district is aware of that and I’m certainly aware of that,” Ross said. “My approach would be to come to it with no preconceptions and a completely open mind.”