By Terry Dean
Oak Park's elementary school District 97 would be in store for drastic cuts in programs and staff for the 2011-2012 school year if its planned referendum next April fails.
Administration and the board discussed that possibility in great detail at a referendum study session Saturday. At its first session on Nov. 2, the board agreed to issue working cash bonds rather than ask voters for a permanent increase in property taxes. Members on Saturday reiterated their support to go the working cash route as a lesser burden on taxpayers.
The prospect of deep cuts if a referendum fails was addressed and presented to the board last summer under the previous administration. Supt. Albert Roberts, who was hired in July, on Saturday presented a revised version of what those cuts could be. He and board members stressed that these were not proposed cuts but an outline of where reductions would come from in order to plug a roughly $6 million structural deficit.
The possibilities include the elimination of CAST and BRAVO, the district's performing arts programs at each of the middle schools; the Multicultural Education Center; and after school programs. Staff cuts would include one district office administrator and support staff, and one assistant principal at each middle school.
"That's not a pretty picture at all and that's why we absolutely need a referendum," Roberts said.
The previous administration had proposed roughly $2 million in cuts, maintaining that that was just a starting point and not enough to balance the budget.
Roberts and the board also discussed prospects for the district if a referendum passes. The superintendent proposed roughly $700,000 in spending reductions for 2011-2012, including a clerical staff position in the superintendent's office, that would still occur under that scenario. Some programs would be maintained and enhanced, however, including increased funding to the district's current technology plan—smart boards for each classroom, for instance—foreign language instruction and its music program.
Saturday was the board's second study session, this one at Holmes School, 508 N. Kenilworth Ave., before a tiny audience of a half dozen people.
The board also started discussing the amount of money that might be asked for in a referendum. The study session was scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon but ended at around 1 p.m. Rather than going beyond that time, members agreed to pick up their discussion at their next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
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