On a night when School Board members approved a 2012-13 budget with a $3.9 million shortfall, teachers and tax watchdogs ratcheted their rhetoric over slow-moving contract negotiations and escalating teacher salaries.
Speaking during the comments portion of Monday night's School Board meeting, Geneva High School choral instructor Roxanne Curtis said Geneva teachers are "involved in a struggle to be regarded as professionals worthy of respect."
"I will not apologize for saying that I feel District 304 teachers have been dealt a slap in the face after all that we accomplish on a daily basis with our most precious resources: our students, your children," she said.
Teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 15, receiving paychecks at the same rate as they were when the previous, three-year contract expired.
Geneva TaxFACTS co-founder Bob McQuillan countered by pointing out the salaries of some teachers who spoke at previous School Board meetings.
"With today’s release of the fiscal 2012 school year teachers salary, it is clear that the contract issue is all about money," he said.
McQuillan said that, of the 366 Geneva teachers who worked full time in both the 2011 and 2012 fiscal year, 266 received a one-year salary increase ranging from 4 percent to more than 20 percent.
The board heard from parents, as well, who spoke in support of the teachers. Jenny Scott said her family has had "the most amazing experiences with our teachers" and wanted to speak publicly on their behalf.
"We are not privy to negotiations," she said. "However, we do not feel that a zero percent increase is acceptable."
Later in the meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Donna Oberg walked through the budget for fiscal 2012-13, with revenue assumptions that include a 1.5 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index, an increase in lunch and milk fees, general state aid at 89 percent proration and the reduction of a number of grants and state reimbursements.
In total, the expected 2012-13 revenues are $89,863,401 and expenditures are $93,774,463, for a shortfall of $3,911,062.
Some of that shortfall has to do with the two-year cycle of the District 304 bus buy-back program. The transportation budget sometimes will show a deficit one year and a surplus the next.
Much of the remainder of the $3.9 million shortfall includes payments for the construction of the new Burgess Field and technology upgrades approved by the Board of Education.
The 2012-13 shortfall is expected to reduce School District 304's reserves from about $57.04 million to about $53.14 million. Board members said the reserves are necessary to cover unexpected expenditures without borrowing and to maintain a favorable bond rating.
The 2012-13 budget includes a surplus in the Education Fund of $3.18 million that officials hope to apply toward its total principal and interest debt of more than $300 million.
"The upcoming freight train of our debt problem is something we have to keep an eye on," School Board member Mike McCormick said.
School Board Vice President Kelly Nowak, who chaired Monday night's meeting in the absence of board President Mark Grosso, encouraged audience members and stakeholders to "try not to think of this as an 'us' or 'them,' but as 'we.' "
She said the board is elected to represent all parties, including faculty and taxpayers.
"We’re trying to find balance," she said. "Sometimes on a knifeblade."