District 203 board implements, rescinds budget cuts

District 203 Board President Lynda Cozad reads the resolution authorizing $1 million in budget cuts at their Tuesday, February 28, meeting. The board would meet again on Thursday, March 2, and scale those cuts back by $400,000. Also pictured is Board Member Mark Christ. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)

O’FALLON – In a rollercoaster week marked with two separate meetings, the District 203 Board of Education met to implement and, eventually rescind, budget cuts for the 2017-18 school year.

On Tuesday, February 28, the board met and, following hours of closed session deliberation, voted 5-2 to approve a $1 million budget reduction plan. Board Members Keith Richter and Donna Johnson voted against the budget cuts.

The proposed changes to the budget included:

  • A reduction in teaching staff totaling 8.4 full-time positions, which would include 6.4 positions in the classroom. Library staff and guidance were also impacted.
  • The reduction of one full-time administrator
  • A reduction of five full-time non-certified personnel positions
  • An increase in textbook and registration fees from $150 to $175 per student
  • An increase in athletic fees from $100 to $175 per student
  • The elimination of the early bird program

In addition to the budget cuts, District 203 will have to spend nearly $1.3 million from its reserves to stay out of the red next school year. Superintendent Darcy Benway outlined the district’s financial situation at a meeting held on February 16. During that meeting, Benway laid much of the district’s financial shortfalls at the feet of the state legislature, saying that unfunded mandates and the disabled veteran property tax abatement law has significantly hindered the district.

Following the conclusion of the meeting, when asked why he voted against the cuts, Richter said he didn’t want to cut anything from the budget that would directly impact students.

“I believe in the students and everything we can do to support them. We should always look at other avenues as far as cuts are concerned rather than going to positions that are going to directly affect them,” Richter said. “Swimming and lacrosse are saved and will stay at the district. That’s one of the things that is unique about OTHS is that we have these two programs to give to the kids.”

Thursday morning the District 203 Board of Education called an emergency meeting to discuss the cuts made two nights prior and to re-address them. Again the board went into closed session to deliberate. Following their executive session, the board reconvened and adjusted their deficit reduction plan to include the following:

  • A reduction in teaching staff totaling four full-time positions in classrooms. These cuts would be based on enrollment and will be made in collaboration with the teacher’s union.
  • A reduction of four non-certified personnel positions.
  • An increase in textbook and athletic fees from $150 to $175 per student
  • An increase in athletic fees from $100 to $150 per student

The total cuts approved came out to $610,000.

Benway said the problem was not solved and that the board will have to address these budget cuts again sooner rather than later.

“We have a $2.3 million problem and any part we don’t cut today, we’re really kicking the can down the road. So the Board of Education tried to split it down the middle and targeted $1 million. All this means is that we’re going to have to use $400,000 from reserves this year and we’re going to have a $400,000 bigger problem to solve next year,” Benway said.

Benway hopes the passion exhibited by all of the community members at the board’s last few meetings will translate into further involvement at the state level.

“My biggest hope is that we have seen a tremendous amount of civic involvement from our students, faculty, parents, and community members. The problem is we can’t generate more revenue. We need that civic involvement at the state level. We need to demand the legislators in Springfield adequately fund our public schools. That’s where the problem started and that’s where we’ve got to really let our voices be heard as a community,” she said.