Three weeks after (RIF) of both teachers and support staff, the on Monday effectively reversed its decision.
With member Liz Campbell absent and Jim Curran abstaining from the vote, the board OK’d a proposal containing layoffs that will initially affect about 500 staffers, including first- through fourth-year teachers. The board also approved cutting first- through fifth-year support staff.
Executive Director for Human Resources Sharon Hawks said all but 30 to 40 teachers and 30 paraprofessionals will be called back in time for next school year.
The need for the RIF came from both financial reasons, including anticipated state funding cuts, as well as program changes needed to bolster middle school college and career readiness standards, according to officials.
Vickie Sutterlin, present of the Valley View Council, Local 604 of the American Federation of Teachers, thanked the board for taking time out to talk with union members after their initial vote on the proposal.
“It gave a better understanding as to the rationale,” she said.
Some parents questioned whether research shows that the program will produce guaranteed results, while others mourned the time students will lose in careers classes like art and music.
Mom Shirley Brady, who has two children at in Romeoville, said she did some research to find out what studies reveal about the Odyssey online intervention program.
She cited a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Education showing little change in students who participated in Odyssey.
“Don’t implement the Odyssey program,” she implored board members, adding data shows that students involved in art, music and P.E. classes have lower dropout rates.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum for grades six to 12 Rachel Kinder noted that the program is more powerful when paired with the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress Assessment), which will be used to drive instruction for each student.
Program changes on the horizon
The board signed off the Odyssey program, along with cuts to the driver’s ed program.
Kinder said Compass Learning’s Odyssey program is aimed at filling the gap as changes are made to align the district’s reading curriculum with new standards. She cited MAP scores showing that more than 60 percent of Valley View sixth- through eighth-graders do not meet new college and career readiness standards.
“The target that we were shooting for has changed,” she said. “We need to supplement until we can kind of catch up to that increased rigor … The game has changed; the standard is higher.”
Board vice president Rick Gougis said waiting until the curriculum catches up to new standards would be disservice to students.
“We’ve had honors kids go to and then get placed in remedial English,” he said. “It’s a travesty.”
Kinder said the program will cost $51,000 per year for the next three years, down from Compass Learning’s original quote of $60,000.
Each student’s level of need would determine how much time he or she would spend in Odyssey and away from careers classes, she said. Odyssey also offers enrichment for high-achieving students.
Parent and local pastor Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle questioned the price of the Odyssey program, saying the $51,000 per year cited by Kinder was only a portion of the true cost.
Anderson-Hurdle pointed to another agenda item containing technology upgrades for the next two years — including hardware and infrastructure improvements needed for the Odyssey program. The updates, including 325 computers, 28 laser printers, furniture and electrical infrastructure, are expected to total a maximum of $390,650.
Kinder countered that equipment and upgrades would also be used during class periods other than Odyssey.
“Yes, there are related costs, but they will serve multiple purposes,” she said.
Anderson-Hurdle also balked at the loss of time in careers classes.
“Not every kid will go to college — frankly, not every kid should go to college,” Anderson-Hurdle said. “I want a well-rounded citizen of the world.”
The severity of the cuts to driver’s ed is still unclear.
Kinder said administrators will base that on feedback received from the board of education.
Currently, the district employs 13 full-time instructors at and six at .
The most severe cuts, which would save $1.1 million, would mean “significant reduction in staffing,” according to a report by Kinder, as well as shifting some of students’ state-mandated behind-the-wheel time to after school, before school or during the summer. Another possibility, she said, is a reduction in the district's fleed of driver's ed vehicles.
Kinder said the end result will fall somewhere between the current driver’s education program and the maximum cuts, adding the reductions are necessary to avoid cuts in core academic areas.
Superintendent James Mitchem responded to parents and staff who spoke out against the changes.
“We’ve exposed our kids to a subpar curriculum and have done nothing about it,” Mitchem said. “Some of the changes are uncomfortable, but we cannot allow that to paralyze us when making these decisions.”
Gougis said it’s not test scores he’s concerned with.
“I could [not] care less about test scores,” he said. “I care what our kids know so they have options in life.”