A series of startling scenarios – class sizes ballooning, teaching equipment falling into disrepair and employees being laid off – was outlined by school administrators during a recent Proviso Township high school budget workshop.
The exercise was not a recommendation for next year’s budget, but it is possible that some of the cuts would be incorporated into the 2009-10 spending plan. Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart had asked each of the district’s three high schools – Proviso East, Proviso West and Proviso Math and Science Academy – to imagine having to cut expenses by 10, 15 and 25 percent.
Books, music programs, computers, teachers, foreign language classes and even busing would all fall by the wayside.
Board President Chris Welch said these worst case scenarios should not prompt panic within the community because it is still early in the budget process. And the board was clear in its message that administrators must find new ways of increasing revenue without increasing taxes, he said.
“There should be no need for fear. I think the board made it very clear that there should be no need for fear, or a decrease in morale,” Welch said. “We’re all in this together.”
The April 27 budget hearing was also an attempt to shine more light on how the district will use its resources. Collins-Hart assembled 10 committees throughout the schools that have input in how dollars will be allocated. Airing these scenarios allows the public to see the types of decisions that may have to be made, she said.
“This is a new process for us, and the work session was intended to bring more transparency to how the budget is built and the difficult choices the district faces in considering budget reductions,” Collins-Hart said in a prepared statement. “While it took a lot of time, and while no process is ideal, I believe it moved us closer to more individuals understanding our budget. During the session we did receive good feedback. It even opened the floor to discussions about possible strategies to generate dollars.”
Michele Vogt-Schuller is a teacher at the math and science academy in Forest Park. The school is set to graduate its first class of students this year and many of those kids will go on to college, scholarships in hand, she said.
The graduating class of 107 students has received millions in financial assistance, and to some very good schools across the country, said Vogt-Schuller. Her concern is that if foreign language classes and extracurricular programs are cut, students won’t be able to compete for a seat in college classrooms.
“The kids won’t get into those schools. Period,” Vogt-Schuller said. “They won’t be in the pile.”
Any budgetary decisions must ultimately be approved by a state-assembled financial oversight panel that was created to help steer the district out of its financial morass. The chairman of that group, Jim Popernik, said he is aware of the budgeting process and these potential cuts, but has not yet reviewed the details. He is assuming that some of those cuts will be incorporated into the superintendent’s budget proposal this summer.
Popernik did not attend the April 27 meeting, but understands that such a discussion could be jarring to a school community. Schools typically try to build upon their budget from year to year, adding new programs and other innovations. To go backwards might be shocking for some, he said.
The school board is expected to revisit the budget during its May 18 meeting at the Proviso Math and Science Academy.