$21.7M in cuts for Plainfield District 202

February 12, 2010 9:44:34 AM PST
Like many others across Illinois, the state's fourth-largest school district will make drastic budget cuts. It is the reality of a struggling economy and problems getting funding from the state board of education. Schools all over the state are slicing and dicing their budgets. The housing market crash, low property tax revenues and problems with state funding are hurting school districts all over.

With its 5-2 vote Thursday night, the school board hopes the approval of the $21.7 million in cuts will place Plainfield School District 202 on the road to becoming debt free by 2013. Parents fear the drastic belt tightening will impact the quality of education.

"Everybody's worried if there's going to be a job to come back to next year, if there won't be. It's scary, very tense," said Vicki Decker, teacher and parent.

"I think we can cut smaller things and look at how this district is actually spending its money before we start cutting people's jobs," said Stacey Hietikko, parent.

As part of the plan, 154 positions will be eliminated, including teachers and staff. Administrators' pay would be frozen, and non-union staff would have to pay 10 percent of their healthcare costs. It also means parents will have to pay higher fees for their children who take part in extracurricular activities, such as band and choir.

"Cutting any faculty affects every student because the class sizes are going to go up, and the teachers just aren't going to have the resources that they usually have," said Kim Turnbull, parent.

"There are a lot of people struggling with money right now, which is why we are here, but then they have to double that amount and that will make some kids not want to join because of the money alone," said junior Matt Smothers.

District 202 is one of the fastest-growing districts in the state. In 1990, they had 3,500 students in five schools, and today they have 30,000 schoolchildren from kindergarten through 12th grade and 30 schools across the southwest suburbs.

The school board blames all of the money troubles on a lack in property tax revenues and reduction in state funding. The board members who voted in opposition say they did so because they don't believe the plan does enough to solve the budget crisis. The cuts will take effect next school year.

On Friday morning, the District 202 community affairs spokesperson said, like most districts, Plainfield is waiting on delayed state funding, which may even be reduced by hundreds of dollars per student next year. And that means even Plainfield's new, slashed budget hangs in the balance.

"There are real human lives here at stake in terms of their jobs, and yet we probably, very likely, will have to be doing this again next year, depending on how state funding comes out. And right now, it doesn't look good," said Tom Hernandez, Plainfield District 202.

"So it's a difficult situation for schools to be put in, because they have put together budget based on what the state is going to be providing them and, and with the state being so far behind in bills, it certainly puts them in difficult positions," said Matt Vanover, Ill. State Board of Education spokesperson.

The state board of education owes the Plainfield district $12 million, and they're behind on paying other schools in the state by $650 million total.