The SD308 Board of Education approved the honorable dismissal of 36 teachers in a split 4-3 ballot Monday evening.
The dismissals came as a result of extensive budget cuts approved by the board early last month. More than $7 million in fee hikes, budget cuts and other measures were approved by the board in an effort to lower the district's projected deficit of $3 million for the 2018-19 school year. Had the board not enacted the cost-cutting measures, district officials had projected the district's budget deficit to grow to $8.8 million for the 2022-23 school year.
Board President Brad Banks attributed the dismissals to both economic reasons and an anticipated lower enrollment for the upcoming school year.
Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin thanked the teachers for their work.
"Decisions such as the ones being made this evening are never easy; they're not taken lightly, but they're unfortunately necessary. The teachers we're releasing tonight have dedicated themselves to the district and to our students...my message to the teachers being released this evening is: Thank you for your service, thank you for your dedication, and thank you for making a difference in our kids' lives."
Before taking their vote, the board went into closed session to discuss the matter, taking more than an hour. Emerging after 10 p.m., the board voted 4-3 to approve the honorable dismissal of the 36 teachers.
Board secretary Jared Ploger, and board members Toni Morgan and Heather Moyer cast the three dissenting votes. Board member Matt Bauman was not present, but was connected to the meeting through a speakerphone.
Due to their "honorable" classification, the teachers are eligible to be rehired by the district. Previous documentation released by the district stated that 38 teachers would be released, but according to Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Dr. Lisa Smith, the number was lowered to 36 due to two teachers applying for year-long leaves of absence. Those filings meant that two teachers from the original list of 38 were recalled to their positions and notified of the change immediately.
The 36 teachers who were dismissed represented 15 district schools; 10 of which are elementary schools. A combined five teachers were released from two junior high schools, a total of four from the two high schools, and one from the district administration center.
In two separate votes, the board also unanimously approved the dismissal and non-reemployment of a first-year probationary teacher from Oswego East High School, and the dismissal and non-reemployment of 27 probationary part-time teachers and teachers hired under a temporary contract.
The 27 probationary teachers hailed from 14 district schools: six from elementary schools, four from junior high schools, 13 from the two high schools, one from East View Academy, and two from Brokaw Early Learning Center.
The lists of teachers can be found on the Board of Education's BoardDocs website, which can be reached through the board's page on the SD308 website.
Concerned students and parents spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting, prior to the board's vote. By law, the district had to hold the hearing to allow the public the opportunity to comment on the dismissals.
Oswego High School junior Mackenzi Murphy, who had transferred back to OHS from Oswego East High School after a semester, expressed concern that one of her teachers, an OHS English instructor, would be among the dismissed teachers.
"When I transferred back to OHS, I got hands-down the best English teacher in the entire building," Murphy said. "I'm afraid that she will be one of the ones on the chopping block...this year - junior year. I have had more teachers this year that care about my grade and know how kids work than any other year since the fifth grade."
Later, the teacher Murphy had voiced support for was among those to be dismissed.
District parent Meridith Herrera drove home her point by displaying three large photographs of her children when she spoke to the board. Herrera, who has two children at Lakewood Creek Elementary in Montgomery and will have a third at the school next year, agreed with the dismissal of 16 teachers due to lower enrollment. However, she questioned the need to dismiss an additional 12 classroom teachers through the board's prior vote to increase class sizes at the elementary level.
"We can still fix this before it negatively affects the academics of our kids," Herrera said.
At the board's Feb. 12 meeting, the board voted 4-3 to increase the kindergarten-second grade class size from 25 students to 28, and from 28 to 30 in third through fifth grades.
"When you think of the educational implication of teaching that many five, six, and seven-year-olds in one room with one teacher, it should be mind-boggling," she said.
She also questioned the standards that teachers would be required to meet, due to the evaluations that are conducted on teachers regarding relationships with their students and parents and the individualized growth plans that many students have.
"Are you going to lower the standard of student growth that elementary teachers need to achieve?" Herrera questioned. "Is this what you want your district to become known as? The district that crams as many students into a classroom and expects less academic growth?"
She continued, "The biggest resource in an elementary building is its staff and now we're stripping that away."
Herrera also questioned the district's decision to approve no cuts or fee increases to the elementary dual language program. No elementary dual language teachers were included in the dismissals.
"I'm sad to hear you're choosing to impact a large percentage of elementary students and have not impacted the elective, elite, dual-language program, where some students are fortunate enough to win the lottery and get in, and a very, very small percentage of students are benefiting from," she said.
The board took time during their comments to address the situation in the district that led to the dismissal and vote.
Board member Toni Morgan, who is a teacher in Yorkville School District 115, said, "I know what a hard time this is...I know, that in the past when I've had people in my immediate circle that had to deal with getting that (dismissal) notice, that it's a very hard thing for teachers, so this is not a happy occasion."
As a board member, Morgan said that she has repeatedly contacted state representatives to point out that if the district was paid on time by the state, then "we would be able to avoid these kinds of issues."
"They just need to pay us on time," she said, encouraging the public to also contact their representatives.
"I believe it's important to make sure that as many people in this category can stay employed as possible, because people do make the difference in childrens lives," Morgan said.