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updated: 3/10/2011 4:46 PM

East Maine Dist. 63 approves budget cuts

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The East Maine School District 63 school board Wednesday night approved cutting more than $1.6 million from the 2011-2012 budget per the recommendations of a special financial task force.

The board also approved either freezing salaries for all employees, including administrators, or increasing class sizes next year and laying off staff, both of which the task force considered but did not recommend.

Elementary and middle school class sizes will increase to a ratio of 28:1 and 30:1 respectively next year, saving the district more than $700,000. Roughly 13 teachers will be laid off as a result, with notices issued by April 15, District 63 Superintendent Scott Clay said.

However, the school board stipulated that should comparable savings be realized through a pay freeze, those teachers would be recalled and class sizes would revert to the current ratio of 25:1, he added.

If a blanket pay freeze is adopted by the district's four bargaining unions representing teachers, custodial and maintenance workers, teaching assistants, and educational support personnel, it would save roughly $1.1 million, more than the $700,000 gained by increasing class sizes, meaning that there's room to negotiate, Clay said.

The district is in year three of a five-year teacher's contract guaranteeing average salary increases of more than 5 percent when step raises and base increases are included.

Teachers are set to receive a 5.5 percent pay hike next year, while custodians are scheduled to receive a 5 percent wage increase, and secretaries will get a 3.9 percent increase. The raise for teacher assistants is much less because it was negotiated after the economy tanked, Clay said, though he could not provide the exact figure.

"They can amend that to a partial freeze," Clay said. "Even if they cut that in half, that would probably give us the savings."

Other cuts that will take place in the 2011-2012 academic year include:

• Changing start times to eliminate single bus runs, saving $350,000. Three of six elementary schools will start earlier and three later, with details yet to be determined.

• Reducing the number of literary specialists, saving $200,000.

• Reducing social workers, saving $190,772.

• Eliminating the gifted program, saving $184,641.

• Reducing the number of speech-language pathologists, saving $159,769.

• Reducing psychologists, saving $103,856.

• Eliminating a disciplinary room at Gemini Junior High School, saving $91,350.

Staffing will be reduced by 12.5 positions, due to a decline in enrollment and changes in programming. Those teachers must be notified by April 15 -- 60 days before the last day of school.

The district is absorbing a $1.7 million deficit as part of its $46 million operating budget for the 2010-2011 school year. District administration cut a few positions going into this school year.

Originally, the deficit was projected to grow to $3.6 million next academic year but the district offered early retirement incentives, bringing the projected deficit down to $1.7 million.

Clay said the district will retool its gifted program, with the three instructional coaches getting training through the Illinois State Board of Education in alternative approaches to gifted education.

"We will learn about different models that we can use and we'll find one that's best for us so we can still maintain the cost savings," Clay said. "We never were able to afford to pay for a really strong program. It was kind of a choice of keeping a program that we felt needed to be expanded, which we couldn't do because we needed more money, or eliminating it and trying something completely different."

With the cuts, district officials are projecting balanced budgets for the next two years by taking a little money out of the reserves. Beyond that, the district may ask to raise taxes so that it doesn't continue to eat into its reserves.

The district is projecting a fund balance of $23.4 million at the end of this school year, dipping to $20 million by 2013-2014, and $16.6 million in 2014-2015.

District 63 serves parts of Niles, Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Glenview, Morton Grove and unincorporated Maine Township.