Daily Herald
District 300 gifted, P.E. programs may feel wrath of budget shortfall
By Jameel Naqvi | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 6/1/2009 4:48 PM

To offset a potential deficit, officials in Community Unit District 300 are considering cutting gifted programs and physical education.

The potential cuts, proposed by a committee of school board members and administrators, are causing concern for many parents, who say district officials should seek cost savings elsewhere.

"They're spending money on new (SMART boards) and new tracks ... it just seems that the priorities are misplaced," said Lisa Jenkner, a parent of two students at Westfield Community School.

But school officials say the district needs to make cuts to avoid asking voters to approve another tax increase. The last tax hike passed in 2006.

"We are headed into a period where we could be deficit spending again and headed to another referendum, and we don't want to go there," District 300 school board President Joe Stevens said.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the recommendations on June 8, although Stevens said that date may change to accommodate more dialogue between parents and school officials. The proposed cuts include:

• Eliminating bus aides for preschool students who don't have special needs, with an estimated savings of more than $400,000.

• Eliminating the gifted program.

• Eliminating physical education for kindergartners and reducing it by 30 minutes a week for students in grades one through five, saving an estimated $432,000.

The panel that made the recommendations has also asked administrators to consider increasing average class sizes across the district by one student. Stevens said the move could save $1.5 million.

If carried out, most of the cuts would not take effect until the 2010-11 school year, because of contractual issues with district employees, Stevens said.

But many parents are starting to express their concerns now.

"Physical education is very important because obesity is a huge problem," said Amy Cole, whose children attend Westfield. "I understand it's a money thing, but I think a structured physical education class every day makes much more sense."