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Local High School in Serious Debt
now seeks input from the community

It seems like everyone wants more money out of us these days - the schools, the village, the township, the park district, the county, the state, etc... Help! And to make matters worse, I live in a 2 district area where the elementary district is separate from the high school district.

After years of spending, the school has been put on the state "Watch List" and they are concerned. The "Watch List" is a warning to let you know if things don't drastically improve, the state will come in and manage your school district's finances. Somehow they will budget what your school administrators and board could not. So, in February 2003, Hononegah High School invited members of the community to "help" them find new ways to achieve a balanced budget. [Although, I must add that most people thought that this was just a ploy to get us to agree to a referendum for a tax increase - and it could be. I will however still do my best to bring money saving suggestions to their attention.]

Some of the budget disaster is not their fault. Illinois really did cut the funding to schools. And in view of Illinois' financial condition, it isn't realistic to expect our state leaders to be able to get more funding for our schools from our bankrupt state. It, also, isn't fair to go to the taxpayers and ask them - again - for more money. There is uneasiness in a working class who are unsure whether they will have a job in the future. So, what I am asking is - please, take another look at ways to cut expenses and live within the budget you have been given. The hard times may only be a few short years but for those few short years, take my advice and tighten your belt.

The following list was put together from my own ideas and from the input of others who are equally concerned at the rising costs of education and the unwillingness [or inability] of many homeowners to pay more taxes. Please take the suggestions seriously. Yes, some will have to be negotiated but they are not impossible. Don't fall prey to staff telling you that they will not even consider a wage freeze or paying their share of the insurance, especially if the administrators set the example. They must be made aware that many Americans are just grateful at the moment to have a job. And some are willing to take pay cuts to keep them. I think it is unpatriotic and self-serving to refuse to help in the economic hard times of our country.

We really are all in this together.

Ideas to save the school district money

Freeze salaries - This includes teachers, administrators and support staff. In a time when Americans are sacrificing, it is ridiculous for any one particular group or occupation to assume they are or should be exempt from sacrifice. The public cannot continue to pay more in taxes to support the increasing wages of a particular group amidst the current economic crunch i.e., layoffs, down sizing and business closings.

Pass on the cost of insurance increase to the staff - Business is being hit hard by increases in insurance. Americans are now expected to pay a greater more share of the insurance coverage they have. So should teachers.

Teachers should teach 6 hours instead of 5 hours - Although this increases teachers responsibilities and thereby increases their salaries, it will still result in a reduction of staff by 10 to 12 teachers. When a staff member retires or leaves, only replace their position if absolutely necessary and at a lower salary if possible.

Evaluate the programs offered by the school - Some programs may have to be sacrificed in order to save money. Some could be eliminated altogether or offered every other year.

Find corporate sponsorship of unusual or unique programs - Area businesses could offset the cost of programs but contributing partial or total funding. Our technology program or school-to-work training would work well here. Area businesses could also agree to let the students learn on the job, creating an income for the student and a possible future employee for the company.

Hiring new staff - When hiring, offer a wage consistent with a recently graduated teacher or one with a few years of experience instead of one with many years. This will save the district money in wages and benefits. Only if the position requires a teacher with 20 years experience, should one be hired. Hire teachers who can teach more than one discipline - thereby making them more versatile and useful. When teachers leave through retirement or other reason, do not fill their vacated position unless absolutely necessary [such as upcoming 3 teachers next year].

Encourage early retirement without paying an enticement - Just ask for their cooperation in these difficult times - some might accept it.

Go to a block schedule - Result - less teachers. Research once again. Dr. Marshall [superintendent] and Mr. Beck [principal] have some experience in this type of scheduling.

Students may only take 6 periods instead of 7 - Result - less teachers. Exception for students: Independent Study.

Increase class size - Result - less teachers. Even a small increase will make a difference.

Sports & extra curricular activities, etc. - Which are fully funded by the school? Which are operating at a profit? Consider corporate and/or community sponsorship and more in student contributions.

Try for another gym class waiver - You wouldn't be required to hire more PE teachers for the increase in enrollment and some of the PE teachers could be utilized in other teaching areas.

Sell properties or assets - Schools are not supposed to be in the land speculation business nor pool tax money. When finances are strapped, sell off assets. Do not expect the public to continue to fund extra purchases that "someday" might be useful or profitable.

Check into having the Driver Ed program [and possibly others] bid by outside companies - [South Beloit High does this] Results - 3 to 4 teachers being available for other teaching positions.

Any new revenue should be put into WORKING CASH FUND - This allows the money to be used where it is needed. If the money is put only into the ED FUND it can only be used for salaries. That means the teachers will push for raises instead of putting the money elsewhere.

If there are more students than the school can support, try splitting the schedule - Belvidere is doing this and in the early 70s, Harlem High School, also did - This is the best utilization of the building. It is better to use the building for more hours per day than going to the expense of adding on or building another building. The schedule would be - freshmen and sophomores attend school from noon-5pm while the juniors and seniors attend from 7am-noon. This allows more time for employment for the older students.

Allow Independent Study for students - This frees up space and teacher time while allowing students with drive to learn at their own pace. This also allows for students who need more credits or desire more on their high school record.

Expect the students and teachers to do their share of keeping the building clean - This allows the maintenance crew to concentrate on essentials instead of clutter cleaning. Less labor = less cost.

Push for Impact Fees - If a district is growing faster than the schools can keep pace, it only makes sense to pass on some of the expense to those building new homes in the district. [William Charles in Pecatonica pays $1000 for each lot sold in West Lake Village]

Become a Unit District - Less administrators will be needed. This means less money will have to be spent. The schools are able to distribute the money where it is needed. The state will help financially for 3 years and the benefits beyond financial are worth considering. Improved cooperation and communication between schools. Pooling and sharing of teachers and resources. Improved relations between communities.

Eliminate administrative positions - Administrators are the highest paying positions and often can be thinned out. This will happen if we become a unit district. Also, when someone leaves a position [Mr. Beck and Mr. Weber], do not re-fill the position.

Send out newsletters less frequently and email as many as possible - It costs over $2000 per mailing of newsletters. An alternative would be to email as many as possible and send only those that have no email access. Or, post the information online and send an email notice with a link.

Keep attendance as high as possible - States pays per pupil for each day they attend, therefore, it is important to be aware of attendance. Problems arise when a student starts to become truant. Teachers should make the attendance office and student services aware when a student is missing. A phone call, email and letter must be sent stating that the parent or guardian must contact the school if the student has been absent. If a student has been missing too long and the work cannot be made up, frustration will follow and the student might consider dropping out altogether. This is at a loss to both the student and the school.

Eliminate study halls - Result = teachers can be put in other teaching situations. The students who have dropped a class and have no where to go, can be given credit for office work or other helpful assignments. Exception: In-school suspension....

Scrutinize the bills - especially utilities - No cell phones. It is sufficient to have pagers or the talk-abouts [walkie-talkies]. No long distance from the school. Check your long distance carrier. Negotiate with the local phone service and other utilities to see if you are getting the best price. Often when they change prices they don't even let you know and keep you at the higher fees - it's called "grandfathering in" and it's happened to me by a local bank. And be sure to pay the bills on time which will save late fees.

Be fair - Students at Hononegah High School are charged $100 to use a parking lot that is full of teacher's cars that pay no fee. A board member told me they are employees should not be charged. However, the University of Illinois @ Rockford charges their professors $10 per month for parking. When they instituted a parking fee, they said it was to pay for the maintenance of the lot and the security personnel, so be fair whoever uses the parking lot should be charged.

Additional advice:
Do not eliminate your alternative education program, students who are struggling should not be sacrificed. When cuts are made - be fair - scrutinze all areas of education. Cut out the fluff. For those who are worried about their children missing out, remember students can enroll in extra programs through long-distance learning or independent study.

Connie Eccles, CEO of ComPortOne

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