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Parents angered by District 102 budget cuts

Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 3:18 p.m. CST

LA GRANGE PARK – With several dozen frustrated parents in the audience, the La Grange District 102 School Board went through with its recommendation for budget cuts that will affect students who require support outside of the general classroom.

Seeking to reduce a $3 million deficit, the board recommended $1 million in cuts for the district’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget that includes the elimination of eight full-time positions, which will save $400,000. Other cuts include changes to technology curriculum and decreases in professional development. Superintendent Warren Shillingburg plans to go forward with the recommended budget.

The proposed cuts were made public April 8, three days before the board considered them for the first time. Parents voiced their frustrations about the quick turnaround.

“If you got more input from the teachers and the parents sooner, I think decisions would be accepted and a lot easier for everyone and all the stakeholders,” said Catherine Keating, a parent of a student at Cossitt Avenue School.

Several board members acknowledged the complaints.

“We need to figure out a way with the board and the administration to do a better job gathering everybody’s input earlier in the process so we cannot have rushed decisions,” said board member Matthew Scotty, followed by a round of applause from the audience.

The district will eliminate the positions of four retiring Tier 3 teachers, three general classroom teachers and one special education teacher.

As a result, Tier 3 students will receive 30 minutes less instruction from a special education teacher – but 30 minutes more specialized instruction time overall. Of the 90 minutes of intervention they will receive, 30 minutes will be through a computer-based program that the district is using for the first time.

“As a parent who is a person with a teaching background, the notion of a computer program doing 30-minute supplemental reading instruction is really troubling to me,” Keating said. “For all students, that is not the way to teach reading.”

Others also questioned the change, including teachers union president Kathleen Valenta, who said district reading specialists were not consulted about the change.

Assistant Superindent for Curriculum Lori Gehrke said the district received feedback on the computer-based program from four districts, all of one which were positive.

Tier 3 and Tier 2 students, who make up about 7-9 percent of the district’s population, will receive reading instruction from the same specialist at the same time next school year. Previously, Tier 3 students received reading instruction from a special education teacher. In some schools, specialists will be responsible for an additional one to two students.

Tier 2 students will learn math from a general classroom teacher instead of a specialist but will have the chance to receive support in science and social science, unlike under the current system.

“We believe that this program model provides appropriate levels of intensity for our students who need the additional intervention,” Gehrke said.

Board member Jennifer Comparoni said the process involved a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation between the administration and parents.

“I want us to learn from that,” said Comparoni, whose term is expiring. “I would think about how do we make ourselves more accessible for all the parents who still have questions?”

Shillingburg said the quick turnaround was a result of the busy schedules of those involved in creating the budget.

“We’re certainly never trying to keep anyone out of the loop, but … I’m not sure [parents] have the educational background to make those decisions, and I think they have to trust the education professionals to make the right choices there,” said Shillingburg, who said he plans to meet with parents at an appropriate date.

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