The Board of Education Monday cut $1.13 million from School District 304’s 2011-12 school year budget. But residents at the board meeting said that’s not enough.
“We need to take action now so next year’s property taxes only go up by single digits,” said resident Rich Hayhurst.
Last month, board members postponed approving the tentative budget so they could meet with administrators and find more cuts to make. The $1.13 million they trimmed Monday includes $65,000 in unpaid wages resulting from a salary freeze for support staff; $103,000 in worker compensation insurance payment cuts due to a policy discount; $250,000 for the portion of the Burgess Field replacement project that has been put off until next year; and about $500,000 in cuts to planned maintenance and capital improvement projects, said Assistant Superintendent Donna Oberg.
“We’re going to do only the repairs that are absolutely necessary and hope nothing actually breaks down,” she said. The complete list of budget cuts will be uploaded to the district’s website, www.geneva304.org, Tuesday morning, she added.
Board members agreed that the latest round of budget cuts wouldn’t be the last before they approve the final draft in December.
“For $1 million-plus, it was well worth the time we spent looking at it now,” said board member Michael McCormick. “I look forward to hearing the public’s comments and continuing to cut. One million is good, but I hope we can do better.”
Resident Don Dears suggested that the district cut support staff costs by 10 percent to save $3 million; outsource busing to save $500,000; cut the building operations and maintenance budget by $500,000; and save another $500,000 by offering early retirement to teachers at the top of the pay scale.
“The object is to cut as much as possible without touching the teachers,” he said. “Our expenditures are 5 percent lower per pupil than the state average for instruction, but 19 percent higher in total cost. The conclusion has to be that overhead is too high.”
Heidi Roed said district officials aren’t being creative enough in seeking out ways to save money. She cited Internet articles on other U.S. school districts that have saved thousands of dollars by enlisting students to reduce electricity waste or by using sheep to crop school lawns.
“There are so many great ideas you can just Google that I don’t understand why we aren’t coming up with creative ideas,” she said.
Board members also discussed holding a “School Finance 101” seminar to clear up miscommunications between the district and the public over the budget process. “At the Swedish Days parade, I thought I was going to get pitchforked because someone thought we were only going to cut $65,000,” McCormick commented.
“I think we should hold a finance workshop so we all can understand the challenges we’re facing,” added board member Kelly Nowak.