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Five Time’s The Charm: District 113A School Board Approves Budget

After five votes, the Lemont-Bromberek Board of Education opted for a budget that provides flexibility to hire additional staff.

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.

What’s next?

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.”

Ann Paul October 02, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Hallelujah! Cindy Kelly actually did the right thing for the kids instead voting with the status quo.
Jorg Manteno October 03, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Shelly, obviously you have not taken the time to follow or inform yourself concerning our school district's financial affairs over the previous years. Mr. Doherty and Ms. Wright have been part of the process to cut the district's spending dramaticly, including the firing of over 40 employees. They have been part of the process to balance the district's budget and have the knowledge and experience to understand school funding and expenses. For example, Mr. Malley sent a letter to this editor several months ago, stating that the surplus for this school year was going to be over 3.5 million dollars, which was incorrect-the surplus is projected to be 2.4 million. School budgets can change dramaticly during the school year with unforseen expenses and funding which can be delayed. Shelly, since you seem so critical of school board members spending-I'm confused why you are advocating that the district increase spending which could create financial hardship down the road. Have you expressed your concern to the high school board? That district is deficit spending, which could mean drastic cuts down the road for the future students. The same students who are in crowded classrooms.
Ann Paul October 03, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Shelly Smith you are 100% right. Thank you for stating the truth. Jorge Manteno conveniently forgets to mention that Doherty and Wright were part of the board that brought this district to insolvency due to them allowing deficit spending to the extent that the district had(in October of 2009) in cash only $260,000. As always Jorge's loyalty to his/her friends comes first and clouds all judgement.
martin finn October 03, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Doherty stated himself, and I have the quote, "We spent too much." Wright right along side. They were part of the team that made the cuts because they had to. They didn't want to swallow that bitter medicine but they did because continued insolvency would bring in the state and then their embarrassment would have been total. (OUch). Also weren't they around when the two years of nearly fraudulent transportation claims were sent to the state. Shame. And you defend these clowns. Enough, looking, forward, we now have a majority of boards members (hang in there cindy) you can budget and plan leading to a sustainable program of reduce class size, innovations, competitive compensation packages all while slowly accreting the reserve pool. Jorg you are yesterday. Goodbye
Ann Paul October 03, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Thank you Martin. At least Doherty & Wright are closing out their tenure with this BOE. Let's hope they don't run again. . .

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