D95 ponders budget guts in face of cash crunch

?School board members will likely try to stretch bond money over five years to limit impact on programs.

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By JESSICA GLOWINSKI

Faced with a cash crunch after a failed referendum to raise levy rates in April, the District 95 school board is now looking at ways to trim its budget for the coming fiscal year, considering expense cuts in both the administrative and academic realms.

At their May 26 meeting, Superintendent Dr. Douglas Rudig presented the board with three different scenarios to balance the budget for the 2005-06 school year. In the first, the district would make a few expense cuts, but mostly rely on $3.5 million in bonds, spread out over five years, to cover any deficits.

In the second, the district would make more drastic cuts in order to bring expenses within 5 percent of its revenue. The third scenario calls for even more cuts to completely balance the budget.

Rudig said the board would mostly be focusing on the first scenario in further discussions about the final budget. This plan would allow the district's expenses to be approximately $600,000 above revenues for the next five years. Rudig said that, above all, the goal is to maintain the quality of the education in the district.

"When we do have to look at the budget, the first thing we ask ourselves is, `What changes can we make that don't affect academic programs?'" he said.

To that end, Rudig said, this first scenario spreads potential budget cuts across all areas. On the administrative level, travel allowances would be lowered, as well as expenses for office supplies. Conference expenses for school board members, Rudig and other administrators would be eliminated.

Academically, standardized testing for the second and fifth grades would be decreased and eliminated, respectively. The use of elementary workbooks would be decreased, and reading supplies would be decreased by 10 percent. Teachers' general supply allotments would also be reduced from $375 to $325.

In total, the cost-saving measures suggested by Rudig under this scenario total approximately $175,000. However, in a separate interview, Rudig stressed that the proposed cuts were highly speculative, and that the final form of the budget won't be known until the end of the summer.

If the proposed cuts did need to be made, Rudig said, they would not greatly affect the academic programs at either S.E. Gross Middle School or Brook Park School.

Many of the proposed academic cuts, such as reducing standardized testing and the use of workbooks, merely follow through on existing plans made before the failed referendum.

While small changes such as these may be able to get the district through the next few years, however, Rudig and school board members stressed that the financial problems in the district were serious.

"It's very obvious that we need to have more revenue," Rudig said. "Our basic revenue comes through the levy process and, for the last 10 years, the average increase in that has been 2.3 percent. The district can't survive on that."

The other two scenarios Rudig presented to the board in May paint a darker picture. To keep expenses within 5 percent of revenue, the cuts proposed included eliminating the main bus service and cutting one teacher from each grade level.

To balance the budget, the cuts from the second scenario were suggested, in addition to the elimination of one art, gym and technology teacher position in both schools.

In order to avoid such scenarios, board members called on the community to support the district.

"If last April proved anything, it's that the board can't do this alone, because we didn't," board Vice President John LaBarbera said at the meeting. "We need the support of the community to help us find other sources of revenue."

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