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Hot topics: 6 talking points from the D-200 State of the District address

WHEATON – To begin discussion at the first Engage200 community engagement session, Community Unit School District 200 Superintendent Brian Harris gave a State of the District address Wednesday night.

Here are some of the highlights:

1. Exploring funding for facility updates

The discussion that led to the implementation of Engage200 started after a failed tax referendum in April 2013 to build a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

Harris said the Board of Education is discussing how to pay for urgent facility updates.

"We've got some critical needs in some of our buildings that have to be addressed," he said.

One option is to refinance the district's debt, which could allow for the issuance of new bonds to fund the updates, according to Harris.

He said no final decisions have been made.

2. Changing student demographics

Harris said the district has seen an increase in Hispanic students, students in the English Language Learner program and students living below the poverty level.

"(Student characteristics) have been changing for some time now and we do anticipate them continuing to change," he said.

Harris said 8.5 percent of district students are English Language Learners; 32 percent are racial or ethnic minorities, half of whom are Hispanic; and 25 percent live below the poverty level and qualify for free or reduced lunch, a 16 percent increase since 2002.

He spoke specifically about the complications of teaching children in poverty.

"Those kids sometimes don't come to school prepared to learn," he said. "They have other challenges in their lives that get in the way."

3. Average teacher salary is $78,000

Harris said that number may seem high, but there are reasons.

"This is a destination district," he said. "People come here and they stay here."

He said 83 percent of district teachers have master's degrees or higher.

"The bottom line is, good teachers are a huge investment in any community, and the payoff is priceless," he said.

The entry level salary for teachers is $41,000.

4. Technology budget continues to increase

Harris said the Board of Education asked him to come up with a long-term technology plan when he arrived at the district four years ago.

In his first year, the technology budget doubled and has continued on that trajectory, with a $250,000 increase this year.

Harris said the district will allocate more money for technology as the budget allows, to ensure students stay up-to-date with the latest technology.

5. Steady enrollment

Harris reviewed a graph showing district enrollment numbers from the last 20 years, as well as projections for the next 10.

Although the graph offered three scenarios, including increased enrollment to near 14,000 students and decreased enrollment below 12,000, Harris said the most likely scenario is enrollment remaining at its current level of 13,200.

"We're not going to be looking at building new buildings because of some big enrollment scenario," he said. "We also won't be looking to close any facilities."

5. Aligning with Common Core

Harris said the district already has a rigorous curriculum, but it will put more emphasis on certain areas in meeting the Common Core standards.

With math, the curriculum is emphasizing algebra and real world applications this school year.

The English and language arts curriculum next year will focus on informational text, writing, grammar and critical thinking.

The district plans to make changes to the science and social studies curricula in the future.

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