Office clerks, teacher assistants to be cut in Hawthorn District 73

The anticipated start of millions of dollars in construction and renovation in Vernon Hills-based Hawthorn Elementary District 73 comes with a tough flip side.

That was illustrated Monday, as the school board in one vote approved $11.2 million in contracts to build a kindergarten center, and in another cut nearly $1.1 million from its operations budget for 2019-20.

The construction was made possible in November when voters approved the district's borrowing of $48.7 million. The cuts were made necessary when voters refused to hike taxes to raise about $1.3 million a year to maintain the facilities, a result interpreted as a directive to cut costs.

Reductions approved Monday include the elimination eight school office clerk positions and 14 teacher assistant positions through attrition. Cuts having the least negative impact on students were identified, district administrators said.

Other cuts include one maintenance position; reduction in custodial contract hours and services; and reducing the use of supplies and materials.

The district also made $316,245 in cuts during the current school year and another $390,000 in reductions is suggested for 2020-21.

"This has been hard but it's something we have to do. We have a deficit in our budget and we have to balance our books," said school board President Sonali Patil.

Patil said the budget is not sustainable given the deficit and pending construction and operation of buildings.

"We're really sorry having to do this but it's something that has to be done for the district," she said. "It's the right thing to do."

The vote to make the budget reductions and a subsequent vote to authorize a reduction in force both passed 5-1, with board member Robin Cleek against. Board member Matt Jacobs was absent.

Cleek said she didn't want it to appear as if she was throwing the others under the bus.

"This was simply a matter of not being able to take this package as anything other than all or nothing," she said. "It's not that I disagree cost reductions need to happen."

Before the votes, board member George Fievet asked the roster of cuts be collected and publicized on the district website "so that it's visible and available to the community."

Long time board member Jayson Tran, who is not seeking re-election in April, agreed.

"We're presenting yet another set of savings and I'm sure we're going to have more, so I think that's a good idea," he said.

The board at a previous meeting was presented with a list of $1.5 million in suggested cuts over the next two years.

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