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Suburban schools resume after cuts

August 25, 2010 2:16:10 PM PDT
Students in some cash-strapped school districts are beginning the new school year Wednesday with fewer teachers, bigger classes and a tough lesson in finances.

It was the first day of school in District U-46 in Elgin, the state's second-largest district. The budget was officially cut last year, and now students are starting to see the effects.

Back in March, school officials warned this day would come, a budget crisis for the new school year. Educators hoped additional funds from Springfield would come through this summer, but help never came.

Faced with a nearly $35 million shortfall, U-46 made deep cuts. There are 407 fewer positions this school year; most let go are teachers.

"The teachers cuts and stuff like that, yeah. Yeah, it's a big deal," said mother Michelle Cole.

In U-46, it means an average of three to five more students per class in all schools.

"Students learn differently, and they need the smaller classes, which means they get more activity with the teachers. So that would affect them in many ways," said Janette Ontiverus, Elgin High School student.

"My son's in first grade, so I'm a little worried about the class size being big, and I guess teachers not having enough time for, you know, getting with the kids," said parent Katrina Neal.

Athletic fees also went up for students for every sport and every school.

"Now you have to pay to get in it," said Alex Morales, Elgin High School student.

Elgin school officials say the state owes U-46 around $30 million.

"They have to fix state funding certainly, and the state of Illinois has to come through and pay the bills, as it were, just like you and I do," said David Smiley, Elgin High School principal. "They need to pay all the school districts that are owed money. Our kids' future and our future is at stake with this. It's not a game. It's very, very serious, and it needs to be fixed."

Smiley tried to downplay the impact of the larger class sizes, but parents remained concerned.

Elgin is not the only district in trouble. Cary District 26 is also facing a crisis as students returned to class Wednesday. They won't have the option of art, music, band or physical education at the elementary and middle schools. The district is saving more than $6 million with those cuts. Junior high students can still play sports in Cary, but students have to pay higher participation fees this year.

The state of Illinois was hoping to get help from a program called Race to the Top, a federal competition between states to try to get billions of dollars. But on Tuesday, Illinois found out it is out of that race.

On a positive note, students at Naperville Central High School begin their school year Wednesday in a building with a new wing that had been impacted by a summer construction workers strike. After the strike was settled, workers put in extra days to prepare the facility in time for the start of classes.


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