U-46 officials unsure about kindergarten, increasing taxes
An estimated $19 million price tag for instituting full-day kindergarten at the state's second-largest school district has some school board members worried.
The Elgin Area School District U-46 board recently adopted boundary changes affecting 13 of the district's 40 elementary schools next school year. The changes are meant to alleviate overcrowding at several schools and accommodate full-day kindergarten districtwide next year.
Yet, the school board hasn't decided whether to move forward with full-day kindergarten.
The school board recently reviewed three budget scenarios for the 2016-17 academic year -- including no tax levy increase; no tax levy increase with 5 percent cuts to expenses; and a 1.5 percent levy increase with issuance of $50 million in school construction bonds to be repaid at roughly $2 million yearly through operating funds.
Under the first scenario, the district is projecting spending $268 million on salaries next school year, which includes a 2.75 percent yearly increase on average. If full-day kindergarten were added, the district would spend $3.3 million for additional staff to support the program.
With the second scenario, salaries would be reduced by roughly $4 million. Overall expenditures would be reduced by $22 million. That includes not spending more than $5 million in 2017 on capital projects, freezing all technology purchases and upgrades, eliminating transportation for the district's academies and gifted program, reducing art and music instruction, eliminating eight assistant principals, no raises for administrators, and closing two elementary schools.
With no levy increase, there will be more dramatic cuts in 2018, 2019 and 2020, said Jeff King, U-46 chief operations officer.
Administrators are recommending the third scenario, which includes the 1.5 percent levy increase to allow implementation of dual language classes at the middle school level and full-day kindergarten. It also would allow the district to fully fund its technology plan, adopt new curriculum approved by the school board, and possibly replace buses every other year, King said.
"We are still operating at 322 employees less than we were in 2009," King said of staffing cuts made when the district had roughly 4,600 employees. "If we were still at that level, we would be spending roughly $21.5 million more than we currently spend on salaries for employees."
CEO Tony Sanders said reducing expenses by 5 percent was painful.
"We just came through a period of time where we cut approximately $25 million in one year in 2009," he said. "We've gotten ourselves financially into a much better place due to the budget cuts that we undertook several years in a row."
To implement or not
School board member Jeanette Ward said the district could just not implement full-day kindergarten next year to avoid making reductions.
"I couldn't support a budget that increases the tax levy," Ward said.
Yet, even without full-day kindergarten, the district still would need to address overcrowding at Elgin area elementary schools, King responded.
"We don't have the classroom space in the region," he said. "Unfortunately the classroom space is in the southeast, so unless we want to expand our mobile fleet we need to address our classroom space."
School board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said parents have been asking for full-day kindergarten for years, as well as magnet schools at the elementary level, smaller class sizes, high school busing, and middle school counselors.
"Yes, people are upset about property taxes ... (but) withdrawals to toe the line (are) detrimental," she said of reducing programs. "And, more importantly, it's not what the community wants. We don't want contraction. We want this district to move forward and to grow."
Other board members supported maintaining current staffing levels and not increasing expenses.
Final staffing decisions for 2016-17 must be made by March/April. The administration is expected to bring forward a revised budget proposal in January.