Despite the objections of several hundred teachers who presented a unified front Wednesday at the Palatine Township Elementary School District 15 board meeting, officials unanimously approved more than $6 million in budget cuts that will increase class size and decrease staff.
In addition to a spending reduction on supplies, maintenance and transportation, about 30 teaching positions will be eliminated and roughly 100 program assistants will be converted to part-time status with no benefits.
"This is not an easy thing for any of us to do," board President Tim Millar said. "Unfortunately, we're in a very difficult position."
Coupled with the use of $3.5 million from the district's reserve fund, the move eliminates next year's projected $9.6 million deficit.
Speaking out against the cuts was Classroom Teachers' Council President Lisa Nuss, who began addressing the board by sharing the union's deep frustrations.
"For the last several years we've regularly encountered a barrage of falsehoods, innuendo, propaganda designed solely to make teachers look bad, to make us appear falsely like we were greedy, lazy or uncaring," Nuss said.
Teachers have felt under attack, she said, sometimes by the school board itself.
Nuss said the past two teachers' contracts have been fiscally responsible and contributed to the district's 40 percent fund balance. She downplayed the administration's five-year forecast showing the fund dropping from about $50 million to less than $5 million by 2016.
"Projections are nothing more than estimates, estimates that have historically been off by millions and millions of dollars," Nuss said. "Year after year, teachers are painted as a drain on the district when in fact surpluses have occurred."
But officials said that not only are the numbers real but they're actually shaping up to be far worse than originally thought. Assistant Superintendent Mike Adamczyk said impending decisions by legislators regarding Medicaid, pension reform and transportation funding could reduce revenue by an additional $6.5 million next year.
"We may have to absorb these huge revenue losses," Superintendent Scott Thompson said.
Board members did approve the budget cuts with the caveat that they'll continue working to find other solutions in an effort to restore teaching positions, program assistant hours and class size. They also seconded Nuss' call for a new contract to be negotiated in good faith and to be worked out before the end of the school year instead of the current deal's expiration on Aug. 31.
Before Nuss spoke, Thompson lauded the teachers for their show of solidarity for the District 15 family.
"I think tonight is an example of us maybe having some difference of opinion, maybe having some issues we need to work out, but I'm confident that once this is all done that we'll be in a good place to continue ... having the excellent system we've been known for," Thompson said.