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School district U-46 to cut 350 jobs next school year
By Kerry Lester | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/12/2009 12:00 AM

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Nearly 350 Elgin Area School District U-46 employees are learning their jobs have been eliminated as part of an effort to reduce spending by $17 million next school year.

The 348 cuts, announced Wednesday afternoon, were split into three categories: administrative, instructional and operational.

Among the 73 administrative cuts, 11 school administrators, 6 dean's assistants and 46 secretarial positions will be eliminated. So will the central office positions of one of the district's directors, four supervisors, two executive directors and three program coordinators. This represents a 14-percent reduction to the district's administrative staff.

The district's instructional work force will be reduced by 7 percent, or 193 employees overall. About 100 of them are members of the teachers union.

"It's tough to find out today that your employment is in jeopardy," Elgin Teachers Association President Tim Davis said.

While the number of general education teachers and English language learner teachers will not be reduced, 48 special education teaching positions will be. So will 22 certified school nurses, all 24 substitute teachers assigned to specific schools and 68 teacher aides.

In an internal memo to staff, Superintendent Torres said the district is restructuring nursing services at its schools. More registered nurses, who work at a lower hourly rate, will be hired in place of more expensive, certified school nurses who are also licensed to teach.

According to terms of their contract, teachers union employees have recall rights for one year after the time they are let go. "We're hoping we'll be able to find positions for people in the district," Davis said.

In special education, Torres said, the district is "right-sizing" needs by staffing classrooms to state special education standards. "I will emphasize again that we will ensure that the needs of all special education students will be met, and that we will comply with the Individualized Education Plans of all students," he said.

The operational side will see an 8-percent total loss of 82 employees. Among those, 25 are bus drivers, 13 are technicians, three are sign language interpreters. One mechanic and one custodian will also be let go.

Class sizes and program changes outlined will not be further affected by these cuts, Torres said.

Student-teacher ratios will still be lowered to 25 to 1 in kindergarten through third grades and 28 to 1 in fourth through sixth grades next year.

These cuts are necessary, district spokesman Tony Sanders said Wednesday, to keep the budget balanced going forward.

Despite anticipated flat-lined revenues next year, the district is obligated to pay $10.4 million more in salaries next year in order to comply with union contracts; and $6.5 million more in increased benefits. And, though U-46 has been told it should receive about $14 million through the federal stimulus package, "We're unsure of what form that money will come in," Sanders said. "We're not building it into our budget next year."

Wednesday's cuts represent an overall reduction in staff numbers and should not be lumped in with the 471 nonrenewal notices approved by the school board last month. Many employees who received nonrenewal notices, an annual task of the district, have a chance of being rehired again in the fall.

Wednesday's cuts "encapsulates all the reductions," Sanders said.

Board President Ken Kaczynski said the district "is at the point where we're really in a mode of protecting ourselves. The unfortunate part is our employees are filled with a whole lot of uncertainty and fear. But we just can't put ourselves (in the red)."

The board will approve the move at Monday's meeting.