The District 97 school board will hear recommendations tonight from the administration tonight and vote on budget cuts affecting a number of programs and staff.

Among the recommendations expected involve increased class sizes, teacher and other staff layoffs, and cuts in administration, to address a budget deficit for 2006. The district has made cuts for the last three years.

The elimination of at least one teacher at Hatch, Irving and Longfellow has been proposed. Parents and teacher from Irving and Longfellow packed the Feb. 8 board meeting demanding other alternatives.

“We’re not ignorant to what needs to be done and the tough decisions that need to be made,” said Irving PTO co-hair Ron Martin at that meeting. “We would oppose any cuts in staff.”

Several board members on Feb. 8 objected to any cuts affecting the classroom. Members asked Supt. Collins and her staff to find additional reductions in areas such as building and grounds as an alternative.

“If the grass doesn’t have to be cut, then so be it,” said board member Peter Barber. “I’ll get out there and cut the grass. That’s no problem.”

Other members echoed similar concerns.

“We need to be very cautious in any decision we make, especially when it concerns what we all believe is the core of a school system, and that’s the classroom,” said board President Carolyn Newberry Schwartz.

Nursing reductions

The proposed cuts also target the district’s school nurses. All but two of the Dist. 97 schools have nurses in the building. Beye and Mann schools share a nurse; so do Lincoln and Hatch.

The district proposes not replacing Percy Julian Middle School nurse Pat Kamarauskas when she retires at the end of this school year. The district hopes to save $75,000.

“We value the work of our school nurses,” said Gail Crantz, Dist. 97 Public Information Officer. “They are valued members of the team. I won’t say what will or won’t be cut. That’s the board decision.”

The district has a total of 4,980 students and 466 total certified staff. The average salary for school nurses, according to the Census, is $34,600.

First year certified nurses in Dist. 97 are paid on a certified teacher pay scale of $36,000 annually.

The district’s current school nurse program elicits praise from Martha Dewey Bergren, a professor in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Nursing. “I think it’s fabulous that Oak Park understands that that is what their community demands,” she said.

Illinois and 36 other states do not require schools to provide nursing services at all. Delaware is the only state in the country mandating a nurse in every school.

The Illinois School Code, however, does state that if a nurse is employed in a school, he/she must be certified. Illinois and 25 other states, including California, Massachusetts and Ohio, require a licensed nurse who is also certified to work in its schools.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, approximately 45,000 school nurses are employed in the United States. That’s one school nurse for every 1,155 students.

Bergren said nurses have as great an impact on student success as teachers.

“No matter how great your institution’s program is, if you’re not addressing those issues of health and wellness, you’re not going to have students reaching their academic [potential],” she said.

Some schools in Illinois and elsewhere have no school nurse. In those institutions, a teacher, counselor or other staff member, provides health services.

“Parents assume that the health person at their school is a school nurse. That’s not always the case,” said Bergren. “Parents would prefer a school nurse, someone on site who knows what to do.”

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