Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181 will be forced to make some unpopular changes to services and staff to reallocate about $2 million in its annual budgets to maintain its schools.
District officials said Monday buildings and ground maintenance has been neglected in recent years, and now they must make unplanned repairs, such as new roofs at the Lane and Elm schools.
The district has focused on enhancing academic programs and support for students at the expense of capital improvements, district officials said.
Chief financial officer Mohsin Dada said students and teachers in the classroom are most important, but warned the district did not want to face another situation like Hinsdale Middle School, where mold remediation caused an unexpected closure a few years back.
“We need to maintain our facilities,” Dada said.
The district staff presented a list of more than 60 possible cost-saving moves.
“The cuts are going to be hard because it doesn’t take much cutting to touch students,” said board President Jennifer Burns.
Some of the suggestions, such as no longer offering Spanish in fifth grade and cutting the hours of the school psychologists, garnered no support from board members.
Board members also were reluctant to eliminate teacher staffing for academic strategies, and in the reading and math labs at the middle school level, which would be the equivalent of one full-time position.
The reading and math labs provide the extra help some students need, said board member Meeta Jain Patel.
The possibility of having physical education three days a week, instead of five, brought out three P.E. teachers to address the board. They talked about research that shows the benefits of physical activity on students’ learning and mental health.
Patel did not want to reduce physical eduation.
“Teaching physical education and healthy living is a fundamental aspect of life,” Patel said, saying it also teaches children teamwork.
There was no consensus on changes to physical education, so Burns suggested the district ask for the community’s input on some suggestions, to learn what residents and parents value most.
The list of possible ways to reduce expenses include reducing the amount of paid professional development for teachers over the summer, hiring more new teachers instead of veteran teachers, adhering to the current class size guidelines (which say up to 26 students in a class is acceptable), and sharing school buses with another school district.
Money could be reallocated by reducing the number of art teachers, reducing the number of part-time secretaries at the elementary schools and/or eliminating the receptionist at the district office and the communications director position.
Some of these reductions could occur through attrition.
Teachers had voiced their opinions on the options prior to the board meeting. Several members of the certified staff wrote that teachers are pulled from their classrooms too often to serve on committees and prepare curriculum and assessments. The district then has to pay for substitutes to teach their classes.
Several teachers, including Maura Fagan, a teacher at Monroe School and president of the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers Association, suggested the district use its reserves to help offset the deficit.
If this was just a one-time occurrence, the district might consider using reserves, Superintendent Don White said. But an architect identified needed improvements that will cost $2 million to $2.5 million in each of the next five years. And the district should allocate about that much for the next 10 years to properly maintain its facilities.
The budget for next school year shows a deficit of $1.36 million due to money spent on capital projects.
Included in the staff’s suggestions were “efficiencies,” such as changes to property liability and workers compensation insurance, adjusting architect fees, charging rental fees for its facilities and delaying the leasing of new Chromebooks and iPads for students, which combined could save the district $690,200.