D-300 approves layoffs

ALGONQUIN – The District 300 school board voted, 4-3, Wednesday to allow the administration to issue pink slips to 363 teachers even after hearing pleas from the public, mostly students, urging them not to.

The board’s decision came at the end of Wednesday night’s public hearing on the administration’s recommended proposal to issue 363 layoff notices and reorganize secondary schools next school year.

“The passion for education has to be balanced against the fiscal reality [that’s] not of our choosing,” Board President Joe Stevens said before approving the resolution reductions.

Emotional testimonies and heated comments filled the packed gymnasium at Westfield Community School. More than 80 people, mostly District 300 students, signed up to speak before the board. Students and teachers demanded the board to reject the proposed measures and expressed worry about how the cuts could affect their futures and their college opportunities.

“The issues I’m most concerned about is the cutting of electives, especially music programs and foreign languages,” said Tim Schultz, a junior at Jacobs High School, who sat in the stands at the meeting. “ ... Getting into colleges is getting more and more competitive. High schools, that’s where you’re really trying to find yourself and your interests.”

Other high school students in attendance said they planned to hold walkouts this morning to protest the decision.

The hearing drew more than the estimated 650 people who attended Tuesday’s special board meeting. An adjacent section was opened to accommodate the overflow audience.

Before casting her “no” vote, board member Ann Miller pointed out that the administration works under the direction of the board and “apologized” to Incoming Superintendent Michael Bregy and his staff team for the situation that made them “look like the bad guys.”

The board had asked the administration to come up with options to help the district balance its budget.

“And now that you did what I asked you to do, I can’t support it,” she said.

Officials anticipate call-backs and project the final reduction of teachers to be between 75 to 150. The district is discussing the cuts now to meet statutory and contractual guidelines for employee dismissals by the end of the school year.

These cuts could save the district from $3.9 million to $7.8 million, according to the administration’s proposal, which is posted on the district’s website, www.d300.org.

Kolleen Hanetho, president of the teachers union LEAD 300, comprising the district’s 1,256 teachers, questioned the 75 to 150 reduction projections. Once an experienced teacher with a family to support receives a termination notice, she or he likely will begin to look for another teaching job and find employment elsewhere, Hanetho said. By then, even if funding becomes available, the district would not be able to rehire some of its former educators, she said.

Last week, the school board approved 26 layoffs of full-time teachers, counselors and high school administrators. For the 2010-11 school district budget, which faced a $5 million deficit, 114 teachers were let go throughout the district.

As a “base-case scenario,” they anticipate an $8.3 million deficit in June 2012. The district had to borrow $18.3 million earlier this month to make payroll. The district’s budget crisis, administration leaders say, largely is due to the state’s fiscal crisis. The district still is owed about $11 million from the state for this school year.

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