Updated: Danville school cuts 'a very painful thing'

Updated: Danville school cuts 'a very painful thing'

Updated 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

DANVILLE — Citing a projected $2.4 million deficit this year and predicting a greater deficit next school year because of anticipated reductions in state aid, Danville school officials plan to cut 25 certified positions next year, mostly teaching jobs, to save more than $2 million in personnel expenses.

Superintendent Mark Denman said it means "slightly increasing" class sizes, losing talented staff members and reducing the number of elective class sections at Danville High School.

"This is a very painful thing," Denman said Tuesday as he and other top district officials were explaining their overall plan for cuts for next school year, which are motivated by decreasing revenues at the local, state and federal levels as well as uncertainty surrounding other financial issues, like pensions. The plan also includes almost $1 million in savings through reductions in maintenance costs, capital expenditures and service cuts in the areas of buildings and grounds, food services and technology, for a total projected savings of slightly more than $3 million.

But Denman said the projected savings would ensure that the district won't have a deficit again next year. He said the district is anticipating reductions in state aid of 15 percent to 20 percent, which could be as much as $4.4 million to $5.8 million. Other funding, like special education, is also being reduced, and there's uncertainty in other areas, including federal funding, pensions and health insurance.

"Things are confusing out there. We don't really know what to expect," he said.

Danville school officials are not alone in dealing with reductions in revenue and uncertainty at the state and federal levels.

Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, Danville's newly hired associate superintendent from the Springfield school district, said that district, as well as the Peoria school districts, where she lives, are also dealing with projected deficits and are facing some tough decisions in trying to make cuts.

"It is the reality, and we are hoping it gets better rather than worse," said Desmoulin-Kherat, who was present for Tuesday's announcement of the cuts as she's using some of her vacation days from the Springfield district to spend time in the Danville district, getting to know the job she'll officially begin July 1.

Desmoulin-Kherat said that fortunately Danville does have reserve funds, but she has seen in other districts how quickly those funds can dwindle.

Across all funds, the Danville district currently has $20 million in reserves, but anticipates that dropping to $17 million once this year's deficit has been absorbed.

Denman said if the district did not make cuts for next year, there's a possibility the district's reserves could dip to $12 million or $13 million, and some of that money sits in restricted funds that can be used for certain purposes only, not salaries or day-to-day operating expenses. He said the district will be falling back on reserves this year, and that's why district officials have been careful to maintain reserves.

Robin Twidwell, a data instructional facilitator at North Ridge Middle School and president of the Danville Education Association, said in a statement emailed to media Tuesday that "it is incredibly difficult for the DEA to accept the proposed staff cuts." She wrote that cutting 14 teachers at the elementary level will create class sizes of 30-plus students.

"The DEA struggles to understand this logic," she wrote. "If teaching students is our primary objective, why are we making decisions that directly impact the education of our children?"

Twidwell added that it's especially difficult to accept when four school board members chose to the lower the district's property tax levy earlier this school year, decreasing local property tax revenues, hired two retired military officers at a cost of $70,000 and hired a new associate superintendent for $130,000.

"We sincerely hope the public is watching the decisions being made by some of our board members," she wrote. "An election is coming that will allow this community to choose board members who will put children first. Cutting teachers will never have a positive impact on our children."

Twidwell was referring to November when four board members rejected a property tax proposal that would have generated more revenue for the district but also would have required an increase in the property tax rate, from $5.03 per $100 of assessed valuation to about $5.19. Instead, board members voted 4-3 for a smaller increase in the property tax rate, from $5.03 per $100 of assessed valuation to $5.07, but that means less local revenue, possibly as much as $700,000 less than the previous year.

And in October, the school board approved launching a U.S. Army Junior ROTC program at Danville High and cover half of two instructors' salaries at a cost of $70,000 a year. And just last month, the board approved the hiring of Desmoulin-Kherat as the next associate superintendent at an annual salary of $130,000 plus benefits.

The reduction in class sizes at the elementary level requires the district to hire four elementary teaching assistants at a cost of $116,926, but Denman said that additional cost is included in the projected $3 million in savings.

He said district officials believe this is a reasonable approach to the district's overall financial health. He said class sizes will go up, but not greatly, and no educational or other programs will be eliminated.

The district expects 36 certified staff and 16 non-certified staff to retire at the end of this school year, so the plan is that 14 of the 25 positions cut will come through attrition. Some of the positions vacated by retirements, he said, will either not be filled or will be filled with an employee with a lesser total compensation package. That leaves 11 that will be cut.

Kathy Houpt, human resources director, for the school district said the district will determine the 11 through a combination of seniority, performance and position. The district will meet with the DEA on Thursday for impact bargaining of these cuts.

Denman said overall, this is very discouraging news for the district, which has had cuts previously in the last four years, but a decision must be made that's in the best interest of the school district as a whole.

"I don't want to mortgage the future of the school district," he said. "I feel this is the most balanced and fair approach to deal with this that we have."

Proposed Danville school district cuts

Danville school officials have proposed cutting 25 certified positions next school year — 14 through attrition and 11 by a combination of seniority, performance and position. The following is a break down of the cuts.

— Two school administration managers: One each at North Ridge and South View middle schools

— 14 elementary teachers: 11 classroom teachers plus one special education, one music and one physical education

— Three middle school teachers/staff: One art, one computer and one math coach

— Six Danville High School teachers: One credit recovery, one math, one science, one physical education, one business and one Work Experience and Career Exploration Program teacher

Projected savings from personnel cuts, $2.1 million; another $956,000 in mostly capital cuts are proposed in buildings and grounds, food service and technology.