It’s often said that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Members of the Lemont-Bromberek District 113A Board of Education followed the sage advice Tuesday night—voting five times before ultimately approving the district’s 2012-13 budget, “Plan B.”
Preceding the board’s vote, Business Manager Barbara Germany presented the district’s tentative budget, projecting $26,375,515 in revenues and $23,958,415 in expenditures—resulting in an estimated surplus of $2,417,100.
Germany also presented an alternate budget that would give the board the flexibility of adding five additional teachers. The so-called “Plan B” budget is projected to add $206,498 to expenditures in the Education Fund.
After alternately voting on the original tentative budget and Plan B, following five attempts, board member Cindy Kelly ultimately joined the majority and voted in favor of Plan B, along with Karen Siston, Mike Aurelio and Al Malley.
According to Germany, based on projections of prorated salaries and benefits, the adoption of Plan B is expected to result in a lowering of the balance in the Education Fund from $1,335,643 to $1,129,145 ($206,498 less than anticipated as projected under the tentative budget).
But while the district remains under financial oversight by the Illinois State Board of Education, any changes to the district’s staffing plan would require an update to the district’s financial plan, which, along with the budget, must also be approved by the ISBE.
And although the funds to hire additional teachers may be in the district’s budget, there is no guarantee of when, how — or even if — the move will take place.
Plan A or Plan B?
During board discussions preceding the budget vote, Aurelio urged fellow board members to opt for Plan B, in order to provide the district some leeway in the budget for hiring additional staff.
“Plan B gives local control to give us the ability to hire additional teachers,” Aurelio said. “It gives us the maximum flexibility [for] where the administration feels resources are best to improve academic achievement.”
“You darned well better put them in the classroom,” said board member Lisa Wright. “That is all I have heard from the members of this board and the community.”
On several occasions, Malley reiterated that approving the Plan B budget would simply allocate resources to payroll and benefits for additional staff, to the tune of an additional $206,000.
“There is no harm in approving this,” Malley said. “It keeps our hands free to [hire staff] later. We may as well keep our hands untied.”
In the board’s first attempt at approving a budget Tuesday night, Plan B went down in a 4-3 vote, with Kevin Doherty, Kelly, Wright and Dave Molitor opposed and Siston, Aurelio and Malley in favor.
Shortly after the first vote was taken, the board unanimously opposed the original budget, prompting a burst of outrage from Malley.
“… For $206,000, you are going to tie our hands?” asked Malley. “We are in a fine financial position,” Malley said. “I don’t know any other school district running these kinds of surpluses, whether we hire the teachers or not.”
But Kelly expressed worry over planning to spend any additional money at this time—a sentiment echoed by fellow board member Doherty.
“We knew a while ago that our budgets were not in compliance with the financial plan,” Doherty said. “We should have gotten some assurance from ISBE.”
Three votes followed before the board settled on Plan B.
Now that the local school board has approved the budget, several hurdles remain.
“What we need to do, legally, is submit the budget to the regional office (of education) and the Illinois State Board of Education, post it on our website and notify parents it’s available,” District 113A Superintendent Susan Birkenmaier said on Wednesday.
The superintendent said she will be contacting ISBE officials immediately to ask how the district should proceed, now that the board has approved a budget that has been amended to include funding for additional staff.
“We have a standing request with them from last spring [to hire additional teachers] and we are looking at [whether] we have flexibility to request staffing,” Birkenmaier said. “ISBE will tell us if we have to revise the [district’s] financial plan. Once we hear from ISBE, we will go back to the [District 113A] school board.”
If and when the board OKs additional staff, where is it most needed?
Some administrators who were present at the meeting Tuesday night expressed concern about bringing in classroom teachers in the next couple of months —after the school year has already begun.
Some classrooms would have to be divided and students moved, which could create angst among parents, said Bill Caron, principal of Old Quarry Middle School. And technical and procedural issues, such as creating new courses and analyzing and reconfiguring services for students who receive specialized help, would also present challenges.
Administrators suggested to board members that additional staff—such as social workers, music teachers and a math team leader—would be helpful to students and teachers alike.
“I want class sizes to be smaller, but it’s hard to move kids,” said River Valley Principal Debby Lynch. “There is a lot to consider.”