West Chicago, IL 60021
Plans for Addition to Wegner Elementary School
The following notation appears in the District 33 Board Briefs of May 9th.
"The Board of Education reviewed/discussed the following informational items...
- recommendation from the Facilities Committee regarding an addition to Wegner School and long term operations and maintenance projects. An informational meeting is scheduled for May 24, 2005, 7:00 p.m. at Wegner School, to inform the public of options the Board of Education is considering for possible facility expansion."
This is the only notification to you, the public, that, in spite of continuing problems with operating funds and budget shortfalls, District 33 is on a course towards a multimillion dollar building and repair program that will, possibly be funded by a "back door referendum, an extension of District 33's debt that does NOT require a vote by the public. Prior to their May 24th public meeting about it, it is my intention to discuss several things about it. This is the first installment of that process.
The following interchange of emails has occurred and copies have been sent to me. I have permission from Brad Smith to post the text of his email. The email from Dr. Leman is non-copy written material produced at the public expense... thereby free use may be made of it. By copying it to the members of the school board he has made it public domain.
Email From Brad Smith to Dr. Leman, Superintendent of District 33:
|From: Brad Smith
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 9:21 AM
Subject: preschool at Wegner
It seems just minutes
ago that you held a much attended public meeting showing us the
up-coming deficits and scaring the public with the prospects of as many
as 37 students per classroom with draconian cuts in the teacher staff
and no cuts in administrative staff.
Response from Dr. Leman:
|From: Ed Leman [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 12:20 PM
To: [Brad Smith]
Cc: Sue Stibal; Chris Scheck; Dave Barclay; Deborah Ramsey; Joe Lach; Katrine Maguire; Sharon Jones
Subject: RE: preschool at Wegner
Dear Mr. Smith,
Thank you for contacting me. After you read my reply, please feel free to contact me again for more information. Also, I will be holding an informational meeting at Wegner School on May 24 at 7:00 PM to discuss some of the questions you raise. Please feel free to attend. I will be explaining some of these very things and seeking input to report to the Board of Education.
I wish school funding was straightforward and followed logic. Sadly, it isn't, and it always makes school districts look like they are trying to pull a fast one on their communities.
The facts are as follows:
1) A very few months ago we were anticipating a $1.3 Million shortfall in the Education Fund that pays salaries, benefits, supplies, and materials for teaching. This was very real and would have required significant reductions.
2) We went to bid on a new health insurance provider, and against our hopes and expectations that bid came in significantly lower (over $1 Million) than the current cost of health insurance, and as a result, we did not have to make the reductions we would have been forced to make. There was no hocus pocus here. We were saved from having to take drastic action by the new insurance provider who came in with a low bid at the right time. Simple as that.
3) We have (and have had for over a year) $670,000.00 in working cash bonds and approximately $400,000.00 in land cash donations from the Prestonfield developer. These are restricted funds that cannot be used for Education Fund expenses. These funds could not be transferred to close the budget gap described above. These funds must be used for facilities and operations. No hocus pocus here either. This is simply a constraint under the law on how school districts are allowed to utilize their funds.
4) The funds described in #3, plus an additional $100,000 to $200,000 from the working cash fund (a fund used to cover cash flow problems, emergencies, or one-time projects - also not for Education Fund needs) is enough to add 4 classrooms to one of our facilities WITHOUT borrowing or going to referendum. The ongoing cost of operating an additional 4 classrooms is approximately $15,000 per year for utilities, custodians, and maintenance, or $4.30 per square foot.
5) The District's need for space is for the purpose of housing the supportive programming that is in place. This includes special education, preschool, reading specialists, gifted education specialists, English as a second language (ESL) specialists, and psychologist and social work support. All of these are currently using classroom and office space in each school.
6) A facilities committee has been working for two years to determine facility needs in the District. Their recommendation is actually for an addition that would cost approximately $2,000,000 and would require some financing, but no referendum, and would not increase taxes. That recommendation also includes several large facility projects that we must plan for, or we'll be faced with serious problems at some not-too-distant time in the future. For example, we have two schools that have 50+ year old asbestos floor tiles. While they are fine for now, once they start popping, we are required to follow EPA abatement procedures - very costly and time consuming. The prudent thing to do is be proactive. That is one example of several that will require action at some point.
7) The larger addition and facilities projects can be decided separately. They would each require financing, but that financing can be done without raising taxes. I'll explain that more at the May 24 informational meeting.
8) We do continue to have a funding problem. What is required of schools by state and federal mandate is not funded by the state or federal governments. Plus, our funding formula is designed to intentionally and continuously press the tax rate down. That is good for tax payers, but forces school districts into a continuous funding crisis mode. We expect to be solvent through the coming school year (to June 30, 2006), but will likely be looking at reductions again for the 06/07 school year, unless we have large commercial developments enter the tax rolls, and it won't be because we are being careless with funds, or that we are trying to pull a fast one on our community, it is the nature of the current school funding model.
9) It is difficult for me to respond to your comments about administrators without sounding self serving, but I will try, and I am very willing to discuss this further. The District 33 report card, which is written by the State, shows that administrative spending in D-33 is far below State average, while teacher spending is a little above average. In fact, many administrators, including 4 of 7 principals, are paid less than many teachers for a much longer contract. The number of administrators per student population is below average (where the number of instructional staff to student population is above average), and the salaries are very far below average. In other words, administrative spending has been held down by keeping the head count down, and by keeping salaries lower than average. By the time the community hears about instructional staff reductions, MANY other cost reductions have already been implemented - including administrative. Compared to DuPage County norms, the D-33 average administrator salary is $13,000 below the next lowest school district average. I am the lowest paid superintendent in the county, but I am fairly compensated, I love West Chicago, and I am very content with that fact. The ability of administrators to utilize the funds we do receive is evidenced by an annual outside audit, and by the extensive supportive programming we offer to a large percentage of very needy learners. Also, your elected Board of Education is a constant watchdog over the financial and program operations in the District. NCLB aside, I will match the learning of our students against any in the country or the world. All administrators are teachers first and at heart. Few people want to be administrators, and it is becoming harder and harder to find qualified and willing persons to take these thankless and much maligned positions. I sincerely believe District 33 is receiving an incredible bargain in its administrative staff. I encourage reconsidering their value. Lower salaries, fewer persons to bear the load, and lack of support may well put D-33 in an administrative crisis. By the way, the Board of Education is deserving of great appreciation by the community. It is a challenging position for which no compensation is received.
10) One more point, and an example of the lunacy that impacts school funding. You may know we are in a law suit against the DuPage Airport Authority (DAA). The DuPage Airport Authority sought tax exempt status for its non-airport-use property of approximately 800 acres that is now developing into a research and development park - HIGH value property. The IL Dept. of Revenue denied their exemption request stating (among other things) that a government entity could not conduct business (leasing property in this case) for profit, and that its non-airport-use land must remain taxed. The DAA took the Dept. of Revenue to court, and against all logic - and law - the circuit court in DuPage County ruled in favor of the DAA. This puts all the taxing bodies in West Chicago in a position of having to PAY BACK tax revenue collected from the DAA's non-airport-use land. We are in an appeal process currently. I attended an oral argument last week, and the justices of the appellate court were not sympathetic to the needs of the taxing bodies, or to the West Chicago taxpayers who will have to pick up the burden of supporting their schools, park district, library, fire dept., and city if that land stays tax exempt. Nor did they appear to be sensitive to the laws that would seem to be clear about non-airport-use land remaining taxable. Admittedly, I am no lawyer. Their decision will determine if we have to pay back several hundred thousand dollars in tax money, and receive no future revenue from 800 acres of prime real estate, or whether we will be able to receive that revenue, and possibly remain solvent for several years.
I have probably given you more information than you wanted to know, but I get on a roll when talking about the dilemma of school funding, and of trying to communicate the intricacies of it to our community. It is very frustrating for you and for us. I don't expect blind trust, and I am very happy to invest time in communicating the whole story.
Please contact me again if I can answer any other questions.