When voters approved a tax increase in 2005, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 officials said the new money would prevent cuts to programs and staffing.
Six years later, District 211 continues to chug along, adopting leaner budgets as the district collects less revenue in the face of a sluggish economy.
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But school officials have said cuts are a possibility in the future, and Thursday's board meeting produced a statement showing expenditures exceeded revenues from July 2010 to January 2011 by $8.6 million.
State funding has fallen by $4 million this year, and though the district doesn't depend on state funding as much as surrounding schools, that's a significant hit. The district won't mention specific programs that could be vulnerable, but already this year it deferred the purchase of computers to reduce costs.
In interviews, the seven candidates running in the April 5 election for the four seats on the school board were asked what they could cut if elected, and if school officials asked them to make reductions to balance the budget.
Incumbent George Brandt of Palatine said the budget is already lean, and he noted how officials delayed the purchase of computers this year to save $5 million. He said the district's five-year forecast looks strong. He wouldn't commit to cutting specific programs, but said everything would be subject to review.
"I would look across the board," he said.
Mucia Burke of Schaumburg said she'd avoid making cuts to arts and music programs, as "not everyone can be an A-plus student in math and science." She wants to ensure public schools offer something to all students, thus motivating them to succeed. She said cuts should be minimized so they don't affect students.
Bill Robertson of Palatine, himself an administrator as assistant principal at Jefferson High School in Rockford, said he may take a look at trimming administrative costs. Like Burke, he said he wasn't sure what to cut. He said schools could save money with simple programs, such as limiting purchases of office supplies.
"You have to gather all the information, all the facts," Robertson said.
Retired Army Col. Roman Golash of Palatine said he feels teachers aren't stressing what he called the core subjects: English, history, math and science. Teachers should focus on instructing students in those topics, which makes other coursework, like arts and music, vulnerable to cuts.
"Maybe we need to re-prioritize, maybe get down to the basics," Golash said.
M. Bryan Neal, from Rolling Meadows, would like to look at employee health insurance coverage and wants teachers to pay more, saying teacher salaries are higher than most residents employed in the private sector. He also would like to end the pay raises that reward teachers who earn advanced degrees. Those raises are separate from the annual increases teachers receive as part of the contract.
Neal said he doesn't believe those extra degrees help students.
"The financial savings from discontinuing this practice would be significant and would improve the value of the education provided to the community," he said.
If voters elect Charles Fritz from Inverness, it would be his second stint as a board member. He said he'd avoid cuts to programs or services that directly affect students. He'd work with the teachers union and other groups to find reductions, he said.
He was reluctant to give specifics, as he said he's wary of negotiating a labor contract in public. He noted what's happening in Madison, Wis., with the protests by public workers over collective bargaining rights, and said Illinois could find itself in a similar situation.
"This all affects the suburbs in an indirect or direct way," Fritz said.
Richard Gerber of Schaumburg just joined the board last year. He said he's impressed with how the district conserves costs. Given that, he said one of the only things left is to reduce the number of programs.
Gerber said while communication with the community and other players, including the teachers union, remains important, it's the school board that needs to make the difficult decisions.
"The teachers union is not going to dictate to the school board what programs are going to be cut," Gerber said. "But community voices are always important."