The SD308 Board of Education continued its review of a list of district programs and positions that could be cut or changed during a lengthy meeting at Oswego High School Tuesday evening.
The district is looking to make between $8 million and $10 million in budget cuts. For the 2018 fiscal year, the district is anticipating a surplus of $1,792,169, but if the board makes no cuts the surplus is expected to become a deficit of slightly more than $3 million. If the board chooses to do nothing by the 2023 fiscal year, the district is projecting it will face a budget deficit of $7.5 million.
Several programs and an additional fee have been added to the board’s potential cut/change list since last month. The programs, in total, represent a potential savings to the district of $1.3 million. The programs added to the list include: restructuring of administrative oversight of the special education program, the elimination of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) elective for sixth and seventh graders and the restructuring of the elementary-level gifted education service model.
Also added to the board’s list is a proposed $10 fee the district would charge to students for participating in clubs and activities.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several parents expressed concern over possible change to the district’s gifted education program.
Michael DiTella, a district parent, said, “To say that removing the gifted program and having a regular education teacher doing this, and not having a reduction in services, I think is a misunderstanding and a misstatement. Gifted education students are special education students...To think that a regular education teacher with a week’s worth of in-service could handle an IEP caseload is, I think we would all say, wrong.”
The proposed changes to the gifted program with a shift to a grade-based model that would see a reduction of 13 out of 14.5 full time educators. The change would also increase the teacher leader full-time educators from 2 to 3.5, to cover the additional professional development for teachers to support the changed model. Literary coaches would also receive additional professional development to increase the level of support the coaches can provide to English-Language Arts teachers who have cluster groups. Teachers that are new to the math replacement would receive professional development to cover the additional resources and strategies needed to support gifted learners.
DiTella asked the board if they would find it appropriate if the situation were applied to the district’s dual-language program.
“Would you want your child having a regular education teacher with a week’s worth of Spanish teaching the dual language program? No – same as with our gifted students ... removing that and having a regular education teacher would be a disservice to those students and would not meet their needs.”
The board voted 4-3 to keep the gifted program on the list of possible cuts.
Board members took time to praise the level of interaction concerning the possible cuts that they have had in recent weeks with administrators and concerned parents.
“People have been really willing to open up, share their concern, really share some thoughtful, innovative ideas to support me and the rest of the board,” board member Heather Moyer said.
Board Secretary Jared Ploger also addressed the seemingly “reactionary” nature of the public comments, mentioning several past issues the board had dealt with that had not received as public a reaction.
“I don’t pretend to know what’s taught in every single gifted class, but I can tell you what I do in my honors class – collaboration, problem solving – but it’s not reactionary. If all we’re going to do is react every time something hits us personally in the face, and we don’t realize that we’re in this together, this is what we get. I’m sorry, I wish there was another way to phrase that. We are in this together, but it can’t be done like this.”
The board took a series of straw polls, similar to the Dec. 11 meeting, on whether or not to remove an item from the cut list, meaning that it would no longer be under consideration to be cut. No items were cut from the list during the meeting, as the board only conducted straw polls on the items that had been added to the list and voted to keep all new items. The list of potential revenue items and reduction items can be found on the BoardDocs page, which can be accessed from the SD308 homepage.
The SD308 Board of Education will meet next on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Oswego East High School Performing Arts Center. The district’s website describes the meeting as a public forum, intended to further continue the discussion on budget cuts.