District 59 reinstates materials fees, leaves start times unchanged
Elk Grove Township District 59 students won't have to change school start times next year, but their families will again need to pay fees for materials.
Those initiatives were among a series of policies the school board considered Monday as it tries to cut about $10 million from the district budget over the next two years. The cuts are an effort to comply with a school board policy that requires the district to keep at least 60 percent of annual operating costs in reserve.
Meanwhile, the school board is meeting Thursday to potentially abandon a voter referendum on issuing bonds up to $20 million. Board members set the last-minute meeting ahead of a Friday deadline to set the March ballot, saying the district has a plan to cut costs without the need of a cash infusion. Some board members opined voters would likely vote against the bonds anyway.
Here's a look at the cost-cutting proposals considered Monday:
School start times: Renegotiating a contract with the district's school bus provider, First Student Inc., could have saved up to $1.5 million annually. But it also would require some especially early start times, with the middle schools beginning classes at 7:25 a.m., and elementary schools to begin at staggered times.
Superintendent Art Fessler took this option off the table Monday, saying the district may reexamine start times next year when the bus contract is up for renewal. The district doesn't want to potentially change school start and dismissal times two years in a row, Fessler said.
Instructional material fees: The school board blazed its own path two years ago when it eliminated fees for classroom materials. Now it will rejoin most districts by again by requiring families to pay fees.
"Hopefully, at some point they will be abandoned again," school board President Barbara Somogyi said.
The annual fees will be $35 for half-day kindergarten students, $55 for full-day kindergarten through fifth grades, and $65 for grades six through eight. The fees brought in about $220,000 annually before being removed.
The board voted 5-1, with Tim Burns abstaining. School board Secretary Sunil Bhave was the lone opponent, calling public education the "great equalizer" in the country and that it should be truly free.
Early retirements: Under another plan approved by the school board, employees in the administration and other staff members not covered by a collective bargaining agreement will no longer be entitled to 6 percent raises in their final three years before retirement.
Those employees will need to notify the district of plans to retire by June to qualify for the salary increases through retirement in 2021. The benefit requires the employee to have served at least 10 years in the district, among other requirements.
The idea is to save money by encouraging top-paid employees with a long tenure in the district to retire sooner. Cost savings for this plan depend on which employees retire.
The school board voted 6-1, with Burns opposed to the policy because he said it's unclear whether any money will be saved.