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posted: 1/30/2010 12:01 AM

Dist. 33 to host town hall meetings about budget woes

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School officials will use two town hall meetings to explain West Chicago Elementary District 33's $3 million budget shortfall and what it means to parents and the community.

The first two-hour session will be conducted in Spanish at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at West Chicago Middle School, 238 E. Hazel St. The second will be in English at 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at the same location.

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The district could cut nearly $3 million from its budget and dip into its reserves to cover the difference, but school board member Dave Barclay said that may not be a good idea in the long run.

"We have additional money in our fund balances, which are healthy, but we would spend that money over the next couple of years to help mitigate reductions we're looking at," Barclay said. "And we have to ask if that is financially sound."

The shortfall is a result of falling property tax revenues, combined with a loss of grants from the state and traditional state funding. Barclay said he believes the state will skip out on payments that are due as early as this year.

"One of the things that exacerbates our problem on top of the economy is that we don't think we're going to get the money the state owes us due to their budget crisis," he said. "We think they're going to have to prorate their payments. We feel like we're in the same situation as a lot of other schools."

To help make up for the $3 million shortfall within the district's eight schools, the board must reduce programs and services, which ultimately will mean layoffs. Barclay said it's too soon to know how many staff members are at risk. The district employs 272 full-time certificated staff; 12 part-time certificated staff; 246 full-time support staff, such as teacher assistants, custodians and secretaries; 41 part-time support staff; and 22 administrators.

"Our philosophy is, of course, to first cut things that don't impact students directly, like supplies, department budgets and administration overheads, but that only gets you so far," Barclay said.

He said the district already has avoided adding new teachers to accommodate growth and classes stand at an average of about 25 students. Programs that will be examined for cuts first are likely supportive services such as bilingual education, reading assistance and early childhood education.

The town hall meetings will aim to answer questions and provide more details on how the cuts will affect students.

"It's to have a conversation about where we are in the whole process," Barclay said. "We want to get the information out ahead of time so they are not surprised."

For details on the meetings, visit wegoed33.k12.il.us. The meetings also will be taped and broadcast on the Web site and on CableCom Channel 17 beginning March 8.

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