Chicago-area schools weigh cuts to fix budgets

March 10, 2010 10:37:52 AM PST
From shortening the school day to slashing programs, school districts across the state are contemplating significant cuts to close budget gaps. Within the next week, many school boards have to notify teachers they plan to lay off.

At school board meetings this week and next, the budget ax will be swinging. Teachers and other staff are being asked to give back raises. Positions and programs are being cut. Up until now, most of it has been caused by the state's inability to pay its bills.

But Governor Quinn's 'bad news' budget address Wednesday is expected to force even deeper cuts.

The singing will be silenced next year for 1,400 students in the Carpentersville school district. Gone will be music, and gym for kindergarteners, and some bus service, along with 112 teachers.

"I think my job is on the line," said teacher Lauren Sarnwick.

Sarnick, a pre-school and special education teacher, is safe from the first round of cuts but expects there will be more.

Monday night, parents in Carpentersville District 300 were told, by the end of the month, it is expected the state's debt to the district will approach $12 million.

And that's without the 11-percent overall cut to education Governor Quinn's budget proposes.

In the Thornton Fractional District in the south suburbs, the superintendent is considering eliminating one period a day.

In the Lincoln-Way High School District, teachers are refusing to give up raises but say they will help with other cost-saving measures.

The Kaneland School District is cutting 21 staffers and 10 athletic coaching jobs.

The schools are different, but not the economic environment.

"We have to make parents understand something has to be cut. When they tell us, 'Don't cut my program; my program is most important,' we have to listen and weigh it all out. Something has to go," said Allison Strupeck, Carpentersville District 300 spokesperson.

"There's a direct correlation for every $1 the state doesn't pay turns into a cut. And every cut directly or indirectly effects the students," said Gilberts Elementary Principal Jeff king Gilberts.

Carpentersville is the state's sixth largest school district. Administrators there and elsewhere say it is a given class sizes will grow, and some students won't have access to programs they need.

Ii choose to put a smile on my face, ignore everything else going on around me-- the chance of losing my job-- and focus on those young children," Sarnick said.

When parents in Carpentersville and other districts call administrators or speak up at board meetings to complain about cuts, they're being offered one suggestion: If you don't like them, call your local state representative or senator, and demand firm answers on education from the candidates for governor.