After weeks of meetings, public hearings and debate, the SD308 Board of Education voted unanimously Monday evening to approve program and personnel cuts along with a series of fee hikes worth $7,063,270. The final number fell short of the district's initial goal of making $8 million in cuts.
The district is currently projecting a deficit of $3 million for the 2018-19 school year. According to district officials, without the cuts and fee hikes, the district's deficit would grow by an additional $1.4 million each year to an annual deficit of $8.8 million by the 2022-23 school year.
District officials have attributed the deficit in part to the state of Illinois' failure to pay the district a $49 million capital development grant and the state's proration of General State Aid from 2011 to 2016, which cost the district an additional $21.5 million.
The approved fee increases include higher student registration and activity fees. The budget cuts call for the increased class sizes and the elimination of 16 full-time equivalent elementary teachers due to decreasing enrollment along with the restructuring of the gifted education program.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Asif Dada said that the board's vote will balance the district's budget for the next few years, but some matters may be revisited in the coming years. He added that the district will keep an eye on how the increases in revenue and decisions made at the state level will affect the funds coming in to the district.
Over the past three months, the board sought the public's input on the cost reductions by holding town hall meetings, hearing comments during regular board meetings and hosting a suggestion box on the district's website where visitors could submit ideas and suggestions.
Those steps came to a head on Monday when dozens of community members and district employees gathered at Oswego East High School to hear the board's final decision.
Elizabeth Palatine, co-president of the Oswego Education Association, the district's teachers' union, spoke before the board, encouraging them to take into account the "lasting impact" that the board's decisions would have on students.
"These questions may be the consequence of financial conditions, many made at the state level and out of local control," she said. "But it's still our responsibility to provide our students with an education that will prepare them to be globally competitive and ready for the challenges of tomorrow."
Before the board voted on the cuts, President Brad Banks read a prepared statement to the audience.
Banks said, "As I stated back in December, reducing our spending will not be easy, but it is the right thing to do. The goal of this board is to take us on the responsible path to fiscal stability, while preserving services that directly impact our students in the classroom. We've been elected to make the best educational choices possible, with the resources we have available and I can assure you no one up here tonight wants to go through this process. ... Our job now is to get our district on a sound financial track and mitigate the risk of going bankrupt."
Banks acknowledged the importance of the district's programs to the student body and their families, and said the board has taken those issues into consideration.
When it came time to vote, the board first held a vote on whether to keep or remove items most recently added to their potential cut list. After those votes were completed, the board went back to the top of the list and voted item-by-item on what would be placed on the "Budget Revenue/Reduction Plan," referred to as "Exhibit A." Items that had different "options" for the board to choose from, were presented as a group; as 1A, 1B, 1C, etc., and the board chose one item from the group.
Any items that had been identified by the board for potential reduction that would require a memorandum of understanding with the OEA were placed at the end of the list, as they would need to be included in collective bargaining discussions with the union. Five items on the list approved by the board fell under this consideration.
In total, 13 revenue increases and 37 cuts or reductions were placed on Exhibit A, resulting in the total dollar amount of just over $7 million. The detailed list, along with explanations of the effect that the items would have on the district and the vote count, can be found on the district's BoardDocs site, accessible through the school board's page on the district website, sd308.org.