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District 207 approves $15 million in cuts, lays off 137 employees
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

District 207 school board Monday night approved $15 million in cuts, which includes laying off 137 employees of which 75 are teachers at year end.

 

Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Maine Township High School District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace and School Board President Ed Mueller listen to public comments Monday night ahead of the board approving $15 million in cuts, which includes laying off 137 employees of which 75 are teachers at year end.

 

Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Maine Township High School District 207 School Board President Ed Mueller listens to public comments Monday night before the board approves $15 million in cuts, which includes laying off 137 employees of which 75 are teachers at year end.

 

Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

The crowd at Monday night's Maine Township High School District 207 school board meeting was significantly smaller than a January public hearing where a couple of thousand people showed up to oppose proposed cuts.

 

Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Maine Township High School District 207 Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Kalou talks about the district's projected $11 million deficit at the end of the current school year.

 

Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Maine Teachers Association President Emma Visee talks to television reporters about the offer from District 207's administration to reopen contract negotiations.

 

Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

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Published: 2/1/2010 10:40 PM | Updated: 2/1/2010 11:20 PM

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The Maine Township High School District 207 school board unanimously approved $15 million in cuts Monday night, laying off 137 employees, including 75 teachers, by year's end.

The board left the door open for another shot at negotiations with the Maine Teachers Association to save roughly 40 to 45 jobs. The administration has offered to spend up to $2 million more out of the district's reserves for two years, if the union matches that amount in salary concessions.

Union leaders will discuss the offer with their membership in coming weeks.

The offer wouldn't spare the remaining noncertified employees and teachers who will surely lose their jobs at the end of the current school year. They are the silent majority who have been forgotten, said Linda Ryan, a librarian at Maine West High School.

The library department at all three district schools is being cut in half down from six librarians, she said.

"All of our support staff has also been cut," Ryan said. "We are down to one librarian for all of Maine West. (The board's) decision right now for wanting the MTA to open up the contract to save 45 jobs ... what happens to the other 92 people that they are not even talking about?"

Monday's vote came amid calls from community members asking the school board to stay firm on cost reductions and not give in to the union's demands to use reserves - expected to be $86 million at the end of this school year - to plug a projected $19 million deficit next year. Teachers and students also pleaded one last time to save all teaching jobs.

The crowd at Monday night's meeting was considerably smaller than the couple of thousand people who attended a nearly five-hour public hearing last month, overwhelmingly opposing the proposed cuts.

The auditorium at Maine South High School, which has a capacity of 830 people, was only half full and only 10 people signed up to speak Monday.

In the district's latest offer, the teachers union would have to agree to forego a 3.2 percent salary increase in the 2010-2011 academic year. Most teachers would continue to receive step pay increases based on years of experience and a 3.5 percent wage increase for the 2011-2012 school year.

Dianne Yonkers of Park Ridge, whose children graduated from Maine South, said it's time for the teachers union to negotiate in good faith.

"The board has made some very significant offers," she said. "Plenty of unions have done this to save membership, so it's not an unheard-of thing. I cannot figure out why they won't do that."

Maine Teachers Association President Emma Visee said since the offer was made Friday she has had heated exchanges with District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace and other union members. Visee said the union leadership and the entire membership will consider the administration's latest offer, but she defended the union's position on using reserves to bail the district out of the financial crisis.

Visee said the administration is wise to change its spending habits since it overspent and underbudgeted in the 2008-09 school year, having not accounted for $6.5 million in expenses until last July.

"MTA has never suggested the district deplete the fund balance," Visee said. "That wouldn't serve anyone well. We ask that they use the fund balance as it was intended, as a savings to get over those rough times, such as we currently face. MTA has for years suggested the district spend those taxpayer monies. Unfortunately, they chose to do so to spend on large-ticket items during a major recession."

Visee was talking about projects to replace windows and renovation at Maine East, installing artificial turf and lights at Maine South's football stadium, and new scoreboards for all three high schools.

District 207's financial troubles came to light at the end of the 2008-09 school year, when the district still had a cash balance of $100 million, roughly 90 percent of its annual operating budget of $112 million.

But an accounting error led to a larger-than-anticipated deficit that year - growing from $3.8 million to $10.3 million.

The deficit at the end of the current academic year is expected to be $11 million, and between $4 million and $9 million in 2010-2011 school year even with the cuts.

Resident Mark Barrett of Park Ridge said it's time to stop the blame game.

"The board of education has the fiduciary responsibility to hold our reserve at a level to keep the district from running into insolvency," Barrett said. "What solutions has the union brought to the table except to totally use the reserve funds of the taxpayers?"

Union leaders say they have offered solutions to raise additional revenue and reduce more administrators to save teachers.

Should an agreement be reached between the MTA and district administration, the school board may meet ahead of the March 1 board meeting to rescind the layoffs authorized Monday.

Approved cuts

The Maine Township High School District 207 school board approved the administration's recommended cuts Monday night.

Reductions from 2009-2010 full-time equivalent staffing:

• Certified teaching staff: 13% (75 jobs)

• Safety monitors: 31% (16.5 jobs)

• Secretary/clerical: 15% (13.5 jobs)

• Teaching assistants: 17% (11 jobs)

• Custodial/maintenance: 11% (11 jobs)

• Administrative: 11% (7 jobs)

• Technology/data processing: 10% (2 jobs)

• Security guards: 7% (1 job)

Cuts in dollars:

• $50,000 in legal fees

• $750,000 in extracurricular/stipends, substitutes and special programs

• $1 million in technology

• $1 million in capital outlay

• $1 million in out-of-district tuition costs

• $1.1 million in administrative cuts

• $2.5 million in noncertified staff including overtime

• $2.6 million in supplies/purchase services

• $5 million in certified staff

Cuts by teaching department in FTE staff:

• Applied arts & technology: 6

• Bilingual/ESL: 2.85

• Counselors: 3.50

• English: 14

• Fine arts: 4.20

• Foreign language: 4

• Library: 3

• Mathematics: 6

• Physical education: 6.80

• Science: 10.25

• Special education: 9.83

• Social science: 4.70

Classes/programs affected in 2010-2011 school year:

• Mandarin Chinese at Maine East and Maine West will be eliminated for the 2010-11 school year due to low enrollments. Students currently enrolled in Chinese can attend Maine South for this class. Classes will be scheduled during the day to allow for transportation between schools.

• The budget for some athletic and extracurricular activities will be reduced, but the programs will not be eliminated entirely. That includes money for the Maine East debate team for travel, supplies and competitions; reducing the number of speech coaches from three to two at each school; reducing the number of jazz band directors from two to one at each school and reducing the number of intramurals offered at each school.

For more information on the cost reductions, visit maine207.org.