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Article updated: 2/8/2012 11:47 PM

District 15 proposes staff cuts, larger class sizes to cut deficit

By Kimberly Pohl

Classrooms next year in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 will boast more students -- yet fewer helping hands -- under a new plan to eliminate a $9.6 million projected deficit.

Superintendent Scott Thompson presented the administration's budget reduction proposal at a board meeting Wednesday attended by more than 100 parents and community members concerned about the impact impending decisions will have on both the quality of education, and their future tax bills.

About 30 teaching positions will be eliminated as part of the plan, which a supportive board will likely approve next month.

"These actions come with deep emotional angst," Thompson said. "Individuals losing their income, benefits and professional status is no light matter."

Most of those staff reductions will result from increasing class-size targets, the most significant coming at the kindergarten level, where the target will jump from an average of 20 to 26 students. Those changes will eliminate 13 teaching positions, while another 13 would be cut through stringent adherence to current targets.

Four art, music and PE staff members who travel between buildings also will be cut, a move that doesn't reduce the number of classes students take.

It may only be temporary, however.

Those particular staff cuts and class-size targets, which together will save $1.65 million annually, would be reinstituted if the 12,000-student district realizes savings through negotiated salaries and benefits with its bargaining units. That depends particularly on the teachers union, whose contract expires this summer.

Thompson wouldn't disclose specific contract figures, but said the administration believes that through successful negotiations, its reserves will be a strong $44.8 million in 2016 even with reinstituting targeted staff cuts. If the district doesn't negotiate savings, however, then its fund balance will drop to $28 million in four years and continue to decline.

The district's other major recommended budget reduction converts all program assistants in regular education classrooms to part-time status, eliminating their benefits and saving $1.3 million.

In total, the administration is recommending about $6 million in cuts and using $3.6 million in reserves to balance next year's budget.

After widespread negative feedback from the community, the district took a few items off the table including drastic class-size increases, the elimination of activity buses and ending elementary band and orchestra.

About a dozen residents addressed the board, many of whom applauded the district for working to curb its spending. Several people said they'd rather staff members take a nominal pay decrease across the board rather than see positions cut.

"The rate of rising salary of the average District 15 teacher has far outpaced that of the public struggling to support it," Jennifer Zold said, speaking on behalf of the Citizens for Accountability group.

Others cautioned the board about the harm increasing class sizes will have, citing studies that show bigger classes result in poorer academic performance.

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