Dist. 300 lists programs on chopping block
Parents of special education students in Community Unit District 300 said a school board work session to discuss proposed budget cuts, including the elimination of nine special education paraprofessionals, allayed some of the fears parents harbored.
The school board on Wednesday reviewed a laundry list of programs that are on the chopping block as the district looks to trim $8.5 million from the district's 2011-12 fiscal year budget. Among the most anticipated discussions of the meeting was the district's plan to cut $273,085 -- or nine positions -- from special education. The district will also leave two positions unfilled, saving about $126,000.
Administrators told the school board and audience members that the planned reductions would improve special education services while increasing the efficiency of special education spending in the district.
District administrators said the reductions depend on the results of an audit of special education and staffing levels.
Superintendent-elect Michael Bregy said the district has not done a good job in the past of placing educators in schools. Instead, students have been forced to attend a school outside of their neighborhood that provides the services they require.
"The culture of the district has been to put kids in cluster programs," Bregy said. "The priority of the district is changing. Our special need students are not being challenged. If you look at test scores, our students are below the state average for special education."
In an unofficial poll, board members said they would support the proposal.
Parents said proposed changes took away some fear that services would diminish, but said there are other factors that also need to be considered.
"It makes sense to restructure," said Vasi Baxter, a parent of a third-grader at Neubert Elementary School. "My biggest concern, it would be great to get special education kids into regular, mainstream classrooms, but they need support to bring parents of non-special education kids on board and to educate students. There are ramifications I am concerned about."
For Jean Totten, whose son is a freshman at Jacobs High School, a change would be good.
"Like they said, our students aren't being educated, not being challenged," Totten said. "It is hard to get them into math and reading at the high school level. It is like they just give up at that point."
In addition to the proposed changes to special education, the school board considered almost two dozen program reductions from cutting extracurricular activities to communication services.
The cuts are needed as the district works to trim $8.5 million from the budget due to the state's ongoing fiscal crisis.
Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates told school board members that the budget presented is based on the assumptions that the state will make all four payments for categoricals this year.
"This is a Pollyanna budget," Crates said. "This is the best-case scenario. But it is possible that we could be cutting another $18 million depending on the state."
Crates said the district is expecting one payment from the state.
The school board will vote on final reductions at a board meeting set for Monday, Feb. 28. Public input is invited.