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posted: 3/16/2012 5:23 PM

Hawthorn cuts teaching assistants to help balance budget

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Thirty-one instructional assistants in Hawthorn Elementary District 73 won't be back next year as part of a cost-saving measure in the Vernon Hills-based district.

Reducing the number of assistants will save the district $675,000 and, with other recommended actions to be considered later, will balance the budget for the 2012-13 school year.

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Altogether, the board trimmed or found additional revenue amounting to $1 million. It's the second consecutive year expenses were reduced as part of an ongoing financial analysis.

"We needed to figure out a number to reduce to get back to a balanced budget," said board President Tim Shanahan.

According to the district, the assistants perform general tasks ranging from helping students get off the bus and to their lockers in a timely fashion to monitoring a small-group learning center or setting up projects, for example.

The 31 assistants released amounts to about one third of the total of 102. The action reduces the ratio of assistants to students from 1 to every 40 to 1 for every 65. The action does not affect one-on-one assistants, which are mandated by student needs and will remain available as needed by any student, according to the district.

The move, known as a reduction in force, requires board action and a 45-day notice to those affected by the reduction. The cuts were made on a seniority basis.

"They do various jobs, including helping out in the classroom," Shanahan said. "They are not certified teachers."

The district also expects to save $100,000 by adjusting night cleaning services. Added revenue will come from the addition of two tuition-based all-day kindergarten classes and by eliminating a mentor position and one dual-language Spanish class.

Last year, the district closed a projected $1.5 million to $2 million budget gap by amending existing teacher contracts to reduce planned salary increases and eliminated some nonteaching positions, such as lunch/recess supervisors.

Other actions included raising student fees, reducing paper costs and implementing energy savings programs.

The measures were reached with assistance from the volunteer Financial Advisory Task Force.

Shanahan said projections two years ago were for a $6 million budget deficit but the district is looking at a balanced budget until 2015 when the teacher contract ends.

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