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Members of District 209’s three labor unions–teachers, custodians and support staff–are expected to vote this week on a proposal from district administrators asking them to take pay cuts in lieu of staff reductions. Doing so would save the district $1.27 million, according to a letter from Assistant Superintendent Nikita Johnson, and help Proviso high schools avert a “financial crisis.”

But some district employees are not pleased with the notion that the budget will be balanced on their backs, and at an Oct. 1 meeting of the custodial union discussion centered on negotiating protections against future layoffs, should the terms be accepted.

The district’s financial problems are summed up in the $10.9 million deficit projection Johnson outlined during recent budget talks with the school board. That figure applies to the schools’ operating funds only. When all accounts are considered, the anticipated year-end shortfall is closer to $11.3 million.

“The board of education is committed to retaining its employees; therefore, we feel that this option will allow everyone to equally share the burden of balancing the budget without reductions in force,” Johnson said in her Sept. 27 letter addressed to the unions.

On Sept. 24, the board voted unanimously to approve $77.3 million in spending through the next fiscal year, despite revenue projections that call for roughly $66 million. At the time of the vote, administrators proposed that other factors, such as pay cuts, will shrink the district’s deficit to $4.4 million.

“They have spent down their reserves and now they’re making cuts to balance the budget,” Catharine Schutzius, a representative from SEIU Local 73 said during a recent talk with union members.

According to Johnson’s letter, administrators are waiting to hear from the unions by Oct. 5.

According to Schutzius, the district may terminate 41 employees if the pay cuts are not implemented. Most of those layoffs would impact support staff, 10 would come from the custodial ranks and only a few from among teachers.

Calls to Superintendent Robert Libka to confirm the number of potential layoffs were not returned. However, in a statement e-mailed to the Review, Libka addressed the reasons for the request.

“My first proposal to the board was a reduction in force of administration, support staff and exempt staff,” Libka said. “The board asked the administration to explore other avenues, rather than terminate anyone. They did agree to consider proposals aimed at reorganization of the central office, and more specifically they approved the elimination of the director of communications position at the last board meeting in order to reduce expenses. No position is sacred at this time.”

Administrators have already agreed to the pay cuts, according to Libka.

Under the proposal, employees are being asked to take a two-week furlough. The reduction in pay would be spread over a period of 26 weeks and at no point would employees not receive a paycheck during a regular pay period.

With roughly 320 teachers in the faculty union, the projected savings is approximately $744,571. Based on the district’s average teaching salary of $55,000, the furlough would cut $106 from each check, according to Johnson’s letter.

Support staff, with an average salary of $27,000, would see $52 less per paycheck for 10-month employees and $61 less for 12-month employees. There are 134 employees in this union for a total savings of $154,919.

Custodians earn an average of $48,620 per year in District 209. If the furlough package is accepted, custodians would see $110 taken out of their paychecks. There are 85 members of the custodial union. The district is projecting a total savings in this staffing area of $158,608, according to Johnson.

These financial straits are not new to the district, though several years of deficit spending have compounded the problem.

Records maintained by the Illinois State Board of Education dating back to 1998 show that Proviso high schools have a history of spending more money than they take in. According to that data, District 209 has over-extended itself by no less than $2.6 million every year since 1999.

Overall, expenses have ballooned roughly 76 percent in the last decade–using figures from the recently approved budget-while revenues grew by 55 percent.

On average, Proviso spends some $6 million per month on payroll and bills.