A list of proposed budget cuts has teachers and staff in Proviso Township High School District 209 on edge, and during a meeting with state officials Monday, union members made clear that they are unhappy with what administrators are planning. Too often, said union leaders, financial concessions are made on the backs of teachers while those at the top of the power structure remain unaffected.

“We always get bombarded with these cuts,” Mona Johnson, president of the teachers’ union said. “This is ridiculous.”

Administrators in the township high schools are under the gun to develop a strategy by February that outlines how the district will reduce its deficits over the next several years. The financial plan must take Proviso through the end of fiscal year 2011.

Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart said she expects the audit for fiscal year 2009 to be completed by mid December, which will tell school and state officials how much money needs to be saved in the coming years. A preliminary draft of the financial plan calls for up to $2.57 million in cuts.

During a November budget workshop held by the school board, President Chris Welch said part of the planning must be focused on long-term solutions.

“I see this list and I see bone,” Welch said of the administration’s proposed cuts. “We’ve got to remember what our purpose here is, and as a board we need to be committed to finding more revenue.”

The financial plan is being requested by the Illinois State Board of Education, which installed a financial oversight panel not quite a year ago to bring stability to the district’s ledger. For years, the school district has been hemorrhaging red ink and the oversight panel is expected to keep its fingers in the budgeting process for at least three years. State law allows the panel to remain for up to 10 years, if necessary.

School administrators are proposing cuts primarily to staffing levels. Teachers, support staff, custodial workers and clerical positions are among those targeted for layoffs. Also, by potentially reducing programs – such as foreign languages, sports and technology instruction – the district may be able to save on curriculum costs.

During Monday’s discussion of the financial plan, teachers informed the oversight panel that they had not been asked by school administrators to participate in the budgeting process. On several occasions, after hearing those comments, panel members recommended that teachers be given a voice in how the district allocates its resources.

“I’m glad you made that suggestion, and I hope the administration takes you up on that,” Craig Schilling, a panel member, said to the union president.

Approximately 40 teachers from the district’s three campuses, Proviso East, Proviso West, and Proviso Math and Science Academy, attended the meeting. More than a half-dozen addressed the state-assembled panel with questions and to pose suggestions. Everything from the allocation of student fees to a tax referendum was mentioned.

Jim Popernik, chairman of the oversight panel, reminded teachers and the public that it remains the job of school administrators to implement whatever solutions are agreed to, and that the state is attempting only to guide those decisions. Repeated mention of asking voters to approve a tax referendum prompted Popernik to highlight the urgency of the district’s problems. A tax increase would be difficult to accomplish, he said, and wouldn’t bring any new revenue to the schools until the latter half of 2011.

“I think the reality is the district is in crisis right now,” Popernik said.