Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

On May 14, School District 65 administrators provided a budget update to the Board’s Finance Committee, proposing ways to cut expenses by an additional $888,000 over and above that proposed two months ago. 

Taking into account these new reductions, the District projects it will operate at surpluses of $1.4 million in 2012-13, $1.7 million in 2013-14, and $676,000 in 2014-15, and then deficits of $2 million and $3.2 million in the subsequent two years.

This is a huge improvement from the deficit scenario projected in the fall of last year. The turnaround is attributable to reducing expenses by about $4.7 million for 2012-13, $5.8 million in 2013-14, $7.1 million in 2014-13, and $6.7 million in 2015-16.

“It is important,” Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “through prudent management we can manage this budget for two or three years, and into the fourth year we’re put into deficit territory.”

The projections are still based on many assumptions. They include the rate of teacher and other employees’ salary increases, which are currently being negotiated with the teachers union and other employee groups; the tax caps that will apply to the 2013 property tax levy year and subsequent years; the amount of state funding; and whether the State will shift a portion of the teacher pension costs to school districts.

At the May 14 Finance Committee meeting, District administrators summarized the deficit reduction strategies and laid out in more detail the rational for cutting certain positions.  The Board’s discussion focused on the proposed cut of 6 teaching assistants in the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) Program and 3.5 fine arts teachers.

They also discussed a distributive leadership plan (see link below) and touched on the plan to replace teachers leaving the District with less experienced teachers.  A working paper outlining a new Inclusion Service-Delivery Model (see link below) was scheduled for discussion at a subsequent Board meeting.

Budget-Balancing Strategies

The administration is currently proposing a reduction in salary expenses next year in the amount of about $3.4 million due to reductions in 36.5 staff positions and to other staffing efficiencies. These include the following reductions:

• 3.5 fine arts teachers and 2.5 physical education teachers,

• 1 speech therapist and 1 psychologist.

• 8 one-to-one aides for special education students and 6 teaching assistants for the TWI. (Administrators have emphasized that students who have an IEP calling for a one-to-one aide will receive one.)

 • 7.5 instructional coaches;  

 • 5 administrative positions and 2 custodians;

 • a reduction in funds of $50,000 for substitute teachers, $100,000 in stipends for providing extended-day services, and an additional $29,000 in stipends.

In addition, a high number of teachers – 36 so far – have elected to retire at the end of this year. The District plans to replace these teachers as well as other teachers leaving the District with less experienced teachers at lower salary levels, The reduction in salary expense due to this strategy is about $513,000 next year. The full benefit of these savings will be felt in 2014-15 and subsequent years, said Kathy Zalewski, comptroller.

After the staff reductions in 2012-13, administrators have said they are not proposing any cuts in teachers or teacher assistants in subsequent years.

The District is also projecting to reduce non-personnel expenditures by a total of $1.5 million in 2012-13, $2.4 million in 2013-14, $3.2 million in 2014-15, $1.7 million in 2015-16, and $1.8 million in 2016-17, said Ms. Zalewski. She presented the Board with a breakdown of the reductions in those areas.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said these strategies “avoided creating a sense of uncertainty and turmoil in our District.” He said, “There’s not an increase in class sizes” due to these strategies; “To date, we’ve pretty much placed everyone who had a job last year, this year;” and “We’ve figured out ways to do the programs in such a way that will enable us to provide  high quality education.”

Six TWI Aides

Assistant Superintendent Mike Robey said the TWI program currently has two aides per TWI strand at each school. He said administrators believed they could staff the TWI program with only one aide per TWI strand and still operate the program effectively. The District plans to train the remaining TWI aides to assist in providing reading supports and focus their efforts in that area.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said TWI teachers have told her that the aides helped not only in literacy instruction but also in other content areas. She said that the achievement report showed that 20% of the TWI Spanish-speaking students scored above the 50th percentile in reading in 2006, and that percentage dropped to 7% in 2011. In math, she said the percentage dropped from 33% to 18%.  She asked, “What’s the rational for dropping supports for TWI when they’re dropping in achievement ?”

Richard Rykhus said, “I think Tracy’s points are spot on.” He said there was a reduction in aides and nothing to replace them. “There’s nothing else to help bring the kids up, and that raises a question for me,” he said.

Ms. Fogelberg said training the remaining aides will make a difference. In addition, the District has been hiring reading teachers who are fluent in Spanish, which will also help, she said.

This issue was not resolved.

Fine Arts Teachers

Susan Schultz said this year at the K-3 grade levels there are four periods (40 minutes each) of fine arts: art, music, library and enrichment (which is a rotation of art, music or library). At the fourth and fifth grade levels, there are also four periods (40 minutes each) of fine arts: art, music, library and drama.

Next year, Ms. Schultz said, drama will be added at the third-grade level. All grades will have four, 40-minute fine arts classes per week, she said.

Under the District’s plan, fine arts teachers will teach 1,400 minutes per week, rather than 1,200 as is the case now. This will bring them more in line with the 1,490 minutes per week for regular classroom teachers, said Ms. Schultz. This change and scheduling changes will enable the District to reduce the number of fine arts teachers by 3.5.

Oakton and Dawes parents protested the changes, saying that under the plan fine arts teachers would no longer be based at their schools, and their fine arts program would be diminished. Oakton parents added that two fine arts teachers based at Oakton have played an integral role in building community at the school and have taken on a leadership role in PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports).

Three of five Board members present at the Finance Committee meeting, Katie Bailey, Ms. Quattrocki and Mr. Rykhus, urged the administration to take a closer look at the impact the change in the fine arts program would have on Oakton, Dawes and other Title I schools.

While there are no guarantees, Dr. Murphy said administrators would do so.

Replacing Teachers with Less
     Experienced Teachers

In an effort to reduce operating costs, the District is planning to replace all retiring teachers as well as other teachers with less experienced teachers at a lower salary. Dr. Murphy said the target level of experience for new hires would be three years.

Administrators presented a “Revised Recruitment Plan” prepared by Beth Sagett-Flores, human resources director. The plan says the District continues to attract a significant number of candidates, and it outlined a number of ways to attract more candidates, including minority candidates. The plan also lays out a “rigorous screening process” to review each applicant.

Several Board members asked questions about the three-year target level of experience. It is anticipated that the Revised Recruitment Plan will be discussed in more detail at a subsequent Board meeting.

Next Steps

The Board has not formally approved any budget cuts. The District plans to submit a draft budget at the June 11 Board meeting and a tentative budget in August.