CRYSTAL LAKE – Declining enrollment in Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 has prompted the district to lay off or reduce hours for 10 full-time and five part-time teachers.
The move is expected to save the district about $1.2 million, and help offset a projected $1.6 million deficit in the district’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Superintendent Johnnie Thomas said.
“The district is experiencing declining enrollment, and we will continue to, as mandated by the board, find the most appropriate ways to balance the budget and account for that decrease in enrollment,” Thomas said.
The final budget hearing will take place in July or August.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Randy Davis said 6,245 students are enrolled in the district this school year, and 6,030 will be enrolled for the 2017-18 school year.
At the school board meeting Tuesday night, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Jeremy Davis presented five-year fiscal projections for the district. The report showed that if no reductions in teachers were made while
enrollment decreased, over the next few years the district’s reserves would shrink by about $26 million.
Thomas noted that there are outstanding factors not included in that projection, such as unknowns from the state.
“It’s always easy to maintain staff, and spend additional deficit money and take it out of your savings account,” Board President Ted Wagner said to the board Tuesday. “But it’s not going to get any better. As a matter of fact, it’s going to get worse.”
Wagner said this is something future boards will need to address immediately. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved an increase in registration and athletic fees over the next three years to help bring in revenue.
“We’re not just looking to cut, we’re looking to find money as well in ways that are appropriate,” Jeremy Davis said.
When the public hearing on the layoffs came, there was no public comment. However, during the general public comment section held toward the beginning of the meeting some urged the school board to reconsider the firing of Prairie Ridge boys basketball coach Corky Card. A couple speakers also mentioned dissatisfaction with the recent efficiency study by MGT Consulting Group and the teacher layoffs.
As far as which teachers are cut, district attorney Steve Richart said the law dictates who the district has to select when there is an economic reduction in force.
“So once you make the budgetary determination, ‘yes we need to reduce,’ then we can’t go in and select who gets cut,” Richart said.
Wagner, and trustees Ann Somers, Amy Blazier and Gary Oberg voted “yes” for the layoffs of teachers, while trustees Rosemary Kurtz, Adam Guss and Dave Secrest voted “no.”
A separate vote for the reduction in hours of a teacher also was passed with Wagner, Somers, Guss and Oberg voting “yes,” Secrest abstaining and Kurtz and Blazier voting “no.”
“I just think teachers are more important that anybody, except the students themselves,” Kurtz said. “And I hope that we will reconsider [cutting] teachers and look at administration.”
Wagner responded saying “administrative issues” also are being looked at.
Devin Hester, president of the District 155 Education Association, told the Northwest Herald he was “saddened” and “disheartened” for his colleagues.
“This is a shocking experience,” Hester said. “It’s first time we’ve [cut] tenured staff in the district’s history.”
Hester said the teacher’s union has plans to meet with the district to bargain the reduction in force and the effect of the reduction in force.
“And during that session, or those sessions if it takes more than one, we will get all of this information we need to understand the situation,” Hester said. “And then we’d be better able to answer the question, ‘Was this justified?’ ”
That bargaining session won’t happen until after spring break, Hester said.
“We are going to do everything in our power to educate ourselves and advocate for [the teachers] as far as our contract allows us to,” Hester said.