DUNLAP — The Dunlap School District 323 School Board is considering cuts to academic programs and "non-core" programs such as music, languages and art, layoffs of teachers and staff, and a variety of increased fees for students to make up a projected $2 million budget deficit for the 2014-15 school year.
It is an unfamiliar position to be in for the school district that has seen a decade of relentless growth.
"Will there be short-term pain? Yes. But we also hope to demonstrate to the public that the district has the ability to make difficult decisions right now with the intent to minimize the impact on the students. As we've known, Dunlap was not immune to the economic difficulties of the time," Superintendent Jay Marino said Wednesday afternoon.
The board heard from residents at its regular meeting Wednesday night, but made no decisions on where to cut the budget. Those final decisions are likely months away, Marino said. The board didn't discuss specific cuts in public Wednesday.
"I would urge that cuts be made in programs throughout the items that are furthest from the children and the classroom," Karen Disharoon, a concerned resident, said to the board during the meeting, suggesting that parents she has spoken to are open to paying student activity fees instead of seeing programs get cut.
District resident Linda Cimino said she looked at many of the district's information channels and asked that the board improve its transparency and communication of the cuts to residents.
"We want some more detailed information," Cimino said. "What I saw was interesting, but it really was not informative."
The district is a victim of a burgeoning school population — nearly double the number from the 2001-02 school year — and a sharp decline in the value of all the property in the district and the respective decline in the amount of property taxes it collects. In other words, expenses are way up, revenues are way down.
The broad categories of proposed cuts that emerged from the Dec. 11 meeting of the board's finance committee cut across the district — from the elementary schools, the middle schools, the high school and district-wide. One proposed cut created $600,000 in savings at the district's two middle schools through potential teacher layoffs. The proposal would reduce the number of teachers needed in the two middle schools by increasing the number of classes they teach a day from five out of seven, to six out of seven (and subsequently reduce personal and team preparation time a day from two periods to one).
Other possible changes include revenue generators such as paying to participate in extracurricular activities and an increase of the student fee by $25. The cost of lunch would increase by 25 cents, a carton of milk by 15 cents and the cost to park at the high school by $25. The increased revenues would raise about $317,000.
Page 2 of 2 - The district would not hire teachers next year based solely on an increase of the student population, Marino said. New students living within an elementary school district boundary where the elementary school is full would be bused to a different elementary school that had available room.
"The board of education has watched the equalized assessed value drop as we get large numbers of new students every year. The board members don't want to be a district that by doing nothing finds itself $5 million in debt the following year, and before you know, it we're in deficit-funding mode," Marino said.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @scotthilyard. Vikaas Shanker contributed to this article.