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Engage 200 committee presents recommendations from engagement initiative

WHEATON – More than 120 area residents came to Monroe Middle School on Wednesday for Community Unit School District 200's sixth and final Engage 200 community engagement session to answer one question: "Did we hear you correctly?"

Community co-chairs Liz Corry and Scott Brown presented key findings and a draft of recommendations scheduled to be brought before the Board of Education on July 9.

"That's the point – that's what we started this process for – to deliver recommendations of our input to the school board," Brown said.

The Engage 200 facilitating team reviewed the community feedback forms and district presentations from each of the previous five sessions dating back to January to determine suggestions, according to Brown.

Common themes include establishing the role of technology in the district, addressing facility needs, seeking additional resources for early childhood education and diverse student populations, and continuing the dialogue started by the process.

Oh, and how to pay for it all.

"This is where it begins to get difficult," Brown said. "Difficult choices are made at the board level. It is our opportunity to now really put a thumbprint on what those priorities should be, what that depth chart should look like, based on the programs and all the ideas we fleshed out in our conversations today."

He said the district will face deficit spending by 2017, a problem compounded by the costs of recommendations suggested by the public throughout the process. With state and federal funding trending downward, the district will need additional revenue sources.

That could mean a referendum to increase tax rates, which are the second lowest among comparable benchmark districts. During a recent finance session, community members "acknowledged that we have very little (to nothing) left to 'cut,'" according to the committee's summary presentation.

The recommendations also asked the board to consider encouraging local government to increase commercial development, raising fees and expanding private funding sources to fill in the gap.

Overall, the report didn't hold many surprises, said President Barbara Intihar.

"Our challenges are mostly financial," she said. "I think that came out loud and clear in almost every session we had, and I think some of the suggestions for creating additional revenue, while being very worthwhile and very heartfelt, some of them may be very difficult to achieve."

The experience was still helpful, she said, in that it educated the public about the challenges the district faces and asked them to contribute to the discussion.

"I think we need to be creative ... and I think there is a lot of creativity in this room," she said. "And now we have a pool of people from which to draw and say 'Here's what we heard, here's what you told us, and help us implement this or help us discover ways to make this work or discover ways to do this.'"

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