Despite the lack of compromise between legislators and Governor Bruce Rauner, which is preventing passage of a state budget, District 91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo announced, during the June 9 school board meeting, that district frugality and smart planning will allow Forest Park schools to smoothly begin in August.
At the meeting, Cavallo discussed a letter sent to parents regarding the status of Illinois finances as well as how the district is planning on handling shortfalls of educational funding from the state.
“We have been aware of, and planning for, the possibility of a reduction in revenue resulting from legislative action, or inaction as the case may be, for some time,” Cavallo said in the letter.
While districts like Chicago Public Schools have expressed concern about not opening on time next school year due to a shortage of funds, D91 has fund reserves allowing the district to sustain current levels of programming for the time being.
Cavallo said their fund reserves and prior planning by the board are allowing the district to stay one step ahead in order to avoid financial and planning crises. In Forest Park, state funding makes up 8 percent of total district revenue.
“This letter to the community is basically explaining that while this is not a good situation for any school in the state of Illinois, we will be opening on time and not projecting to close any schools, have any programs cut, etc.,” Cavallo said. “We’re in pretty good shape right now because of our past planning.”
In his letter, he expressed his disappointment in legislators because schools are struggling to make ends meet for educating children across the state.
“Of course, this means that the dysfunction at the capitol has resulted in a shift of more of the cost of educating Illinois’ children to local taxpayers,” he said. “The top priority for our elected officials must be to enact a budget that includes adequate funds for all public schools.”
Cavallo cautioned that, while the fund reserve helps, the extra money will not last forever. In his letter, he urged parents to contact their legislators and get involved with the issue at the local level in spite of what he calls a “toxic climate” in Springfield.
“As taxpayers and as citizens who are concerned about the health and future of our state, now is the time to be engaged,” Cavallo wrote. “Contact your elected officials to let them know your feelings about the current ‘state of our state.’ Meanwhile, be assured that your District 91 Board of Education and I will continue to monitor this situation closely and do our best to continue all of the great programs we offer to our students. We will also continue to develop contingency plans to respond to the prospect of an ongoing budget impasse.”
In order to continue providing the same level of services to Forest Park students, the board unanimously voted in favor of approving a waiver of fees for kindergarten through eighth-grade registration and a waiver of field trip fees, including the district’s annual fifth-grade outdoor education program at Covenant Harbor in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
“This is a great benefit,” Cavallo said upon board approval. “Our students are afforded the opportunity to go places and see things they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do. To not have that burden fall on families is a great thing our board does for our community.”
Focus group feedback
At the meeting, Cavallo also addressed some of the results of the district’s focus groups, conducted this spring along with community surveys to determine new district core values.
“We are prepared now to begin to do our real work with the information of identifying our core values like we did nine years ago,” he said.
Cavallo said the focus group moderator provided him with an outline of both strengths and weaknesses as addressed by community members from four focus groups. He said the district’s greatest strengths were identified as well as potential challenges, including diversity, communication, small class sizes and the district inevitably feeding into Proviso East High School.
“All of those things I found very true and very interesting,” Cavallo said. “Proviso East was called the elephant in the room [and] that’s not a surprise at all.”
He concluded by noting that most of those surveyed said D91 has excellent teachers, enjoy the class sizes, and focus on refurbishing buildings to meet 21st-century student needs.
“I don’t think there was anything shocking or anything we haven’t talked about a hundred times,” Cavallo added. “I think this is a lot of affirmation and confirmation of what we do, by and large. But this definitely gives us some key points to work on when we develop our core values.”