The District 112 Board of Education voted Tuesday night to cut 69 staff members, including teachers and teacher's assistants, in order to trim $2.65 million from its 2013 budget.
The budget, which passed unanimously with six votes (board member Howard Metz was absent), recommends reducing 26.5 certified staff members and 41.5 classified staff members. The cuts to certified staff (teachers, librarians and behavior specialists) will save the district $1.3 million while the cuts to classified staff (paraprofessionals, teacher's assistants) will save the district $915,000.
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"The choices are difficult, the decisions are hard," District 112 Superintendent David Behlow said shortly before the vote. "We look at every child as a child, not as a number."
District 112 faced a $3 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year. This is the district's third consecutive deficit year, and the first where the district decided against using reserves.
According to board members and district staff, if action is not taken now to combat that deficit, the consequences will be more severe later on.
"If we stay and do the same thing for the next three to four years, by 2017 we will run out of money," said Mohsin Dada, the district’s chief financial officer. "Totally out of money."
The board also voted to cut an additional student services coordinator, bringing the total amount saved from administrative cuts to $445,000. Board member Marcia Bogolub suggested the cut "in the spirit of shared sacrifice."
"This will clearly present additional challenges," Bogolub said. "I have every confidence not just in our teachers but in our administrators that this can be accomplished not at the expense of any of the children."
The cut adds $60,000 to $210,000 set aside to fill the gap left by the removal of 16 of the dual-language and bilingual program’s teaching-assistant positions. School principals have the ability to use these funds to offset the impact of losing the teacher's aids. They can choose to use that money to reinstate some of the aids or to hire reading specialists. Of the over 20 Highland Park residents that spoke during Tuesday's meeting, many pleaded with the board to maintain its teacher's assistants in these programs.
"Our neediest children will lose their safety net," said Mary Jo Block, a teacher's assistant at Oak Terrace about the proposed teacher's assistant cuts. "The teaching assistants assure that students are put on proper buses, take care of bus and playground supervision. … Will the district really save money when they will have to pay teachers to do these extra jobs?"
Class sizes will remain the same
One option for saving funds the district considered was consolidating its three fourth grade sections at into two. There are currently 50 students in third grade, which means the two sections would have included 25 students. Though this would still fall within the district's class size guidelines, many parents of children with health and behavioral issues complained the decision would adversely affect their children.
"They're not going to learn as much," Highland Park resident James Rosen said. He has two sons in elementary school, one of which has problems focusing. "This is the last place I would cut."
The board decided to leave the sections unchanged.
'Budget reductions break our hearts'
Board members made it a point to explain to residents that these decisions did not come easily.
"Budget reductions breaks our hearts," board president Bruce Hyman said.
Board member Cynthia Plouche agreed, pointing out that cutting staff was especially painful.
"I don't want to make it seem that my heart doesn't ache for the people who have to lose their jobs," Plouche said. "I wish there was an easier way."
According to the recommended budget adjustments, the district will cut 15 full-time teachers from schools including , , and . will lose four full-time teachers, the most of any school in the district. Most of the cuts, however, affect paraprofessional and teaching assistant positions throughout the district's 12 schools.
"I wish we could avoid eliminations, but that is not an economic possibility," said board member Michael Cohn. "The reduction in staff is the only current way to reduce expenses incurred this year… If we don't act now the future of the district will be in jeopardy."