Preliminary budget numbers concerned members of the District 97 Board of Education last week, prompting them to ask administrators to propose spending reductions in a budget year earlier planned to be free from cuts.
Still, the board approved 10 new full-time and two part-time teaching and school social services positions bearing salary and benefits costs of approximately $250,000. Most of the approved positions were prompted by increased enrollments and state special education requirements.
The board also approved two new curriculum administrator positions, one to oversee teaching at the district's eight elementary schools and the other at the district's two middle schools. The $87,000 one-year positions replace two retirees, assistant principal for middle school curriculum Linda Dallam and teacher leader Jane Samuelson, who handled teacher mentoring and University 97, the district in-house continuing education school.
Nixed were a full-time proposed position and a part-time special arrangement that would have allowed Hatch physical education teacher and nutritional specialist Sandy Noel to teach nutrition and lead healthy food tastings at other schools.
The rejected full-time post, a student support specialist, would have served halftime at both Lincoln and Mann elementary schools. Administrators proposed the new job because of enrollment numbers, but board members wanted more information on whether the services were necessary at the schools.
Gifted job makes the cut
On the block was a middle school gifted education resource teacher, which gives each middle school its own gifted teacher after one teacher's duties were split between the schools last year. Board President Carolyn Newberry Schwartz and others felt a review of the program was needed before approving the position.
But Dan Burke and others felt the board needed to support the program after hearing about program updates at a June meeting.
Ultimately, arguments for supporting the program won the day, the motion to approve the new position passing 6-1. Sharon Patchak-Layman cast the dissenting vote.
"It's $50,000. It would be nice to know what [the teacher would] do for $50,000," Patchak-Layman said. The district uses $50,000 as an estimate for a new teacher's salary and benefits.
The district has identified 150 sixth-graders (25 percent of the class) as gifted.
Other approved positions included a resource teacher and a special education teacher at Beye, a social worker at Beye, an verbal behavior Applied Behavioral Analysis teacher (see story, page7) and a special ed resource teacher at Holmes, a special ed teacher at Irving, a third grade teacher at Lincoln, fifth grade teachers at Lincoln and Mann, a half-time nurse at Whittier, and a special ed teacher at Julian Middle School.
Expenses 'inching up'
Although board members based their position-approval decisions on more than finances, disappointing figures in a proposed 2005-06 budget earlier in the meeting put the need to constrain spending at the forefront.
In February, past president Ade Onayemi said the upcoming budget year would allow the district to "take a breather" on making hard spending cut decisions, with two new members joining the board in April, and a new superintendent and curriculum chief taking over July 1.
Also in February, Assistant Supt. for Finance & Operations Gary Lonquist projected Education Fund expenditures in 2005-06 at $44.6 million. By last week that projection had grown 3 percent to $46 million.
Expenditures in some operating funds have double-digit increases over last year's budget. Overall, operating expenditures are expected to rise more than 6 percent, to $56.3 million. With operating revenues at $53.5 million, that would draw $2.8 million from reserves.
Some of the increases are explained by new contracts that awarded 5 percent salary boosts to teachers and administrators, and by the newly approved positions, Newberry Schwartz said.
The board heard other bad news, too. District expenditures last year were expected to outpace revenues by just 2 percent. But that figure doubled, in part because operating revenues fell $3.9 million short of expectations.
That gap is explained by delayed property tax payments, Lonquist told the board. Tax payments delayed in one budget year are expected in the next, he said.
The district has $22.9 million in operating reserves, plus another $6.6 million in its working cash fund.
Sharon Patchak-Layman observed some "inching up" of spending in some areas.
"Individually none of them make a big impact, but collectively they start to chip away," she said.
Newberry Schwartz asked Lonquist to propose cuts and revenue boosts to make the budget "look a little tighter." The proposed budget neared its targeted 1.05 expense-revenue ratio, coming in at 1.052. The difference is approximately $100,000, although projections have not been finalized.
A public hearing on the budget will be held at the district's Aug. 31 meeting, with adoption expected on Sept. 14.
Oak Park elementary schools will offer a verbal behavior Applied Behavioral Analysis program for students with special needs in the fall, special services director Steve Castle said at last week's District 97 board meeting.
Castle said the decision to add the program was advised by legal counsel, who said that if it were not offered, in certain cases parents would be entitled to send their students to special schools, at a cost to the district much greater than the program.
"It could be extremely expensive," Castle told the board.
Dr. Anne Maxwell, a consultant and ABA specialist, will help the district establish the program, and the district hired a teacher with ABA training to lead the program.
The eight or nine students identified for the program will receive ABA training in half-day sessions, where they will receive one-on-one "discrete trial therapy." The remainder of the day is spent in other settings, depending on each child's Individual Education Plan.
The program will be located at Holmes Elementary School.
Parents at Oak Park and River Forest High School have pushed for years for a verbal behavior ABA program. Special Education director Linda Cada said teachers and administrators at OPRF have received the same training Dist. 97 will undergo, and that ABA techniques are found throughout its curriculum.
"We feel pretty confident we are presenting a good program, as always," Cada said.
Terry Burke, one of the parents calling for verbal behavior ABA at OPRF, said the school's representatives have received very little training in the method, and that the school uses an outdated form of ABA.