On March 14, Superintendent Paul Goren presented his recommendations for $5.1 million in cuts for the 2017-18 school year, and an additional $3.7 million in cuts for the following year. The cuts will be necessary if the District’s operating referendum is not approved by voters in the April 4 election.
Significant additional cuts would be necessary to address projected deficits in subsequent years.
Starting in December, administrators advised members of the Board and the community that these cuts would need to be made, and they summarized that 50 to 60 staff positions would need to be cut, that class sizes would be increased, that programs and services would be cut, and described other strategies that would be necessary to achieve the cuts – if the referendum did not pass.
The recommendations on March 14 presented more details.
“This is not an easy conversation,” said Dr. Goren. “We don’t want to reduce positions. We don’t want to reduce programs. We want to maintain the momentum. We want to maintain the comaraderie of the School District. That’s why we’re here as educators. That’s why we’re here as community members. There’s no road to $8.8 million in two years that won’t be hard.”
Board President Candance Chow said, “With all the hope we have in what is possible for children of District 65, for their families, and for the workplace in which 1,500 people come every day – we have to be prepared for the possibility that this referendum does not pass. And we have to have plans for that which balances our deficits next year and the years beyond.
“That is why we are here tonight,” Ms. Chow continued. “To the Board, I say you will definitely not like what you are going to hear. And yet, any items you find unpalatable, I believe will be replaced by equally unpalatable alternatives. Still we must understand the approach, the criteria, and lenses used to build the set of recommendations.
“And then next week we must be resolved to make $5.1 million in proposed cuts which will be followed by another $3.7 million next year if the referendum does not pass. I want to also caution us that our work will not be done there. With the $8.8 million removed from the budget over the next few years,” the District will need to make still steep cuts in subsequent years.
Dr. Goren said the Board needs to make a decision on the proposed cuts at the Board’s March 21 meeting to be able to send Reduction in Force notices to teachers impacted in a timely fashion. There is a total of $3.9 million in school-based cuts and $1.2 million in central administration and operations cuts, for a total of $5.1 million.
Dr. Goren emphasized that the cuts will not be made if the April 4 referendum passes. This is a contingency plan.
The Decision Process
“We reviewed every item in the budget,” said Dr. Goren. For each possible reduction, he said, administrators asked the following questions to minimize the impact on equity and instruction:
- Is the expense legally required
- Will it have an inequitable impact on students
- Is it was central to achieving our strategic goals
- How disruptive would the change be to students and families
- How much would the reduction impact core instruction
- How difficult would it be to implement and how does it impact staff
- What would the savings be
- Can the District provide the services or program more efficiently
As part of the analysis, administrators decided whether to retain the program or service or to reduce, restructure, or eliminate it.
The Equity Analysis
Dr. Goren added that administrators did their analysis using an equity lens.
As part of the equity analysis Dr. Goren said they considered “to what extend does this area of spending advance our equity agenda, to what extent would a potential reduction have an impact on a historically marginalized population that we serve in the District, and whether the reduction would damage trust and relationships with historically marginalized communities.
Based on that analysis, administrators decided not to include certain programs or services in the initial budget cuts due to equity concerns. They fall into four categories.
Early Childhood: “We are not offering any reductions in full-day kindergarten, early childhood programming, early grade literacy and achievement and opportunity gap interventions, and the work being done with Evanston Cradle to Career, said Dr. Goren.
Teaching and Learning: “We’re focused very specifically on maintaining our reading specialists, and the intensive supports that we are providing for students in the bottom quartile of performance,” said Dr. Goren. Administrators also recommend maintaining the African Centered Curriculum (ACC) program, maintaining assistant principals at Title I schools and elementary schools with more than 500 students, and maintaining the ESL teacher/student ratio
School Climate/Student Supports: “We are maintaining special services supports (mental health supports, social workers, and psychologists). We are maintaining the size of special education caseloads. We continue our work, even doubling-down, our equity training and development budget, and we are continuing our work on School Climate Teams and social-emotional learning.”
Community Partnerships: “Finally on community partnerships, we can maintain our resources toward after-school programming and summer learning opportunities for striving learners. We’re maintaining our commitment to community schools and to family and community engagement.”
“This is a total of $5.6M of potential reductions removed from consideration due to equity concerns,” said Dr. Goren.
School-Based cuts – $3.9 Million
Dr. Goren recommended that the Board approve $3.9 million in “school-based cuts,” with $3.2 million in personnel and $700,000 in non-personnel.
To reduce personnel costs by $3.2 million, Dr. Goren recommends cuts of 40 FTEs, approximately 30 teachers and 10 support staff.
The staff reductions are broken down as follows:
- eliminating three assistant principal positions ($350,000),
- increasing class-size guidelines by three students ($1.36 million),
- additional staff reductions to achieve $1.46 million, including: increasing class sizes for middle school arts and PE, reducing and eliminating library media assistants; eliminating the industrial arts position, eliminating the band and orchestra at fourth and fifth grades, reducing PBIS coaching support, eliminate TWI aides, and eliminating middle school athletics.
To achieve the $700,000 in non-personnel costs, Dr. Goren recommends continuing to delay the purchase of new science curriculum materials ($550,000), eliminating Camp Timberlee ($70,000); and reducing school leadership coaching and support and other measures ($70,000).
Central-Office Cuts – $1.2 Million
Administrators propose personnel cuts in the Central Office totaling $470,000 and non-personnel cuts totaling $740,000.
On the personnel side, nine FTEs will be eliminated ($255,000), salaries and benefits of top-level administrators will be adjusted ($40,000), and administrator professional development benefit costs will be reduced ($40,000), and external funding will be secured for current research and strategy ($110,000).
The District will achieve non-personnel reductions at the Central Office totaling $740,000 through general reductions, transportation efficiencies, and other measures.
When asked if any additional administrators could be cut, Dr. Goren said, “I don’t know how I could run the enterprise without the players I have.”
He pointed out that the proposed school-based reductions represent 3% of the overall school-based staff while the central/administrative reductions represent 12%.
During her opening remarks, Ms. Chow said the District has been managing administrative expenses. The ratio of administrators to students has dropped from 1 to 125 to 1 to 175, she said. In addition, the District’s administrative expenses are in the lowest quartile of school districts in the State.
School Year 2018-19 – Cuts of $3.7 Million
Dr. Goren also summarized potential cuts for the school year 2018-19. He said these could include: further increases to elementary school class size guidelines (at least 5 over current guidelines); eliminating or charging non-low-income households for the second half of the kindergarten day; potentially eliminating geometry at Evanston Township High School; closing one or more schools; combining buildings to serve fewer grade levels; creating multi-grade classrooms ; establishing a District-wide home school reassignment; reducing all transportation services that are not legally required; and revisiting all items removed from consideration for the school year 2017-18.
Board member Suni Kartha asked why the recommendation did not include eliminating geometry at ETHS in 2017-18. Stacy Beardsley, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, said historically it cost less to offer geometry at ETHS than at District 65. She said administrators wanted to assess the costs in more detail before recommending that the program be cut.
Community and Board Reactions
Eleven people spoke against the proposed cuts to band and orchestra. Many extolled the benefits of music to children, and said it is essential to a well-rounded education, and that it fostered cooperation, collaboration and team work. They said it provides children from low-income households a unique opportunity to learn an instrument or to join a band.
Most people in the crowd of about 100 people attending the meeting stood and cheered speakers who opposed the cuts to band and orchestra.
While acknowledging the recommendation to cut band/orchestra in fourth and fifth grades, Dr. Goren said, “The value of arts and music is very strong.” He added, “We talked about, ‘Do we reduce arts as a regular part of the curriculum?’ and we did not. ‘Do we reduce music as part of the curriculum?’ and we did not.”
Ms. Beardsleysaid students who sign up for band/orchestra are pulled out of a core instructional classroom to participate in the program. “It’s not part of the regular instructional day for kids; it’s something in addition to the core instructional program,” she said, adding that about 1,100 students participate in band and orchestra in all grade levels.
Board member Claudia Garrison asked if Board members would be asked to vote on the proposed $5.1 million in cuts on an “all or nothing” basis. She said she was not in favor of cutting band and orchestra and, “If I have to vote for everything, if that’s in there, then I can’t vote for any of it.”
Ms. Chow said, “What we have to vote on next week is $5.1 million in reductions. If any component, large, small, or otherwise of this particular package is unfathomable to a majority of the Board, then that has to be replaced with another, probably, equally distasteful option.”
Board member Tracy Quattrocki said what makes this difficult is that the proposed cuts to band and orchestra became public before the meeting and many people opposing the cuts attended the meeting and made a “compelling” case against the cuts. But, she added, the proposed cuts of TWI aides and the cuts of middle school athletics were not made public before the meeting, and a compelling case could be made to keep those programs.
She asked why administrators were recommending the elimination of TWI aides. Ms. Beardsley said TWI aides had been cut in the past and were now “at a point where the impact of the aides absolutely exists, but it is relatively small.” She added that sometimes an aide is spread across six classrooms.
Peter Godard, Director of Research, Information, and Data, added that the size of TWI classrooms by law must be 90% or less than regular classrooms. He said the lower class size was also a factor.
“Music is part of the equity conversation,” said Board member Sergio Hernandez. “If we really want to educate the whole child, I think we include art and music as part of that equity list. … We’re going to have to find something else to cut because I think music and art are critical if we want to address the needs of the whole child.”
He added that it would be helpful if the Board knew what alternatives there might be.
Ms. Quattrocki said it would be helpful if administrators shared what alternatives they considered in deciding whether to recommend cutting band and orchestra.
Dr. Goren said when they looked at band and orchestra, they looked at it in comparison to potentially cutting reading specialists, the ACC program, additional assistant principals, and to accelerating the increase in class size guidelines.
Dr. Goren said some of the factors considered in choosing to retain these other programs were that the District has made a commitment to early literacy, and reading specialists were important to that initiative. Last year, he said, the District made a commitment to continue the ACC program for three years and to strengthen the program. He pointed out that the program provided a culturally relevant curriculum, and what the District learned in administering ACC could be used at other District schools. Dr. Goren said they decided to keep assistant principals at Title I schools and elementary schools with more than 500 students and one at each middle school. They decided to ease into increasing class size guidelines by increasing the guidelines by three students next year and by five in the second year.
Dr. Goren said the cost savings for cutting band and orchestra was about $380,000. He suggested that if the Board decided to increase class-size guidelines by four students, rather than three students, next year, that would be a possible alternative. He said, though, “I stand by my recommendation.”
Board members weighed in on whether to increase class sizes to four students next year, or to stick with the recommendation to cut band and instruments. Ms. Garrison and Mr. Fernandez said they preferred to increase class sizes by four students; Ms. Chow, Ms. Kartha, and Ms. Quattrocki said they would accept the recommendation of the Superintendent; and Ms. Tanyavutti said she did not have enough information to take a position.
During the discussion Ms. Tanyavutti said it would be preferable to obtain input from the community, and the timing did not allow for that.
Dr. Goren said, “I absolutely respect obtaining input from stakeholders.” He added, though, “We have some very sensitive personnel issues here that I was very concerned about. I’ll own that. But, I’m not willing to go forward and start to say, ‘I want this person over that person, over this person, over that person. That’s not going to happen on my watch. I’m just not going to do that. That’s part of the piece for me.
“These are such tough decisions that we end up pitting the community against each other, and so those who are advocates for middle school athletics will come out, those who are advocates for social and emotional learning will come out, those who are advocates for equity training will come out. To me that actually devolves trust more. And again, based on my and my team’s professional perspective, based on the decision process that we’ve done, we made tough decisions, that are contingent on the referendum.
Ms. Chow said for the past four months, she considered: “How could you engage in a dialogue that would provide something fruitful for thought without creating such tension and such unnecessary divisiveness between stakeholders and the community?” She said she did not know if there was a “perfect answer,” but that they landed a place which they thought “would be the most respectful and the best thing for us and the community at large.”
Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services, said administrators have been looking at this for nine months and that they looked at hundreds of things. “Nobody wants to make cuts in the District,” she said. “We’re upset about it. We feel this is our best professional decision. We took this extremely seriously so we could provide you with our recommendation because what we want to do is to best educate our students. This wasn’t easy, and we hope we don’t have to go this route.”
Andy Ross, a representative of Save Our Schools, said during the public comment section of the meeting, “The consequences will be dire if we don’t pass the referendum.” If it does not pass, he said, “not only will orchestra and band go away, but many other things as well.”
Snapshot of the Referendum
The latest financial projections prepared by the District show that its operating deficits will grow from $5.1 million in FY’18 (the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018) to $24.4 million in FY’25.
If approved, the referendum would provide an additional $14.5 million in funding in year one. In subsequent years, it would provide an additional $14.5 million per year, plus increases on that amount permitted under tax caps. Over the next eight years, the referendum is projected to generate an additional $135.6 million, said Dr. Goren.
The $135.6 million would be enough to cover the projected operating deficits in the next eight years, which total $112.3 million, and enable the District to maintain its current educational program and provide a source of funding for technology. It would leave $23.3 million that could be used to enhance educational opportunities, to enable the District to move forward with some limited capital projects, and to maintain the working cash fund balance at 19% of operating expenses. Best practices aim for between 25% and 40% in working cash, he said.
The funding that would become available for capital projects would total about $15.2 million over the next eight years. This would enable the District to construct double-vestibule safe entrances for the five remaining schools that do not have them, make priority replacements of air-handler units and boilers, and make some roofing and masonry repairs.
Finally, while the referendum is structured to sustain the District for the next eight years, the funding would enable the District to manage its budget if the State makes significant cuts in State funding to the District or freezes property taxes.