Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Research needed to choose district’s programs to cut

In a finance meeting Tuesday, School District 202 Board of Education members discussed how best to compensate for the projected $1.6 million budget deficit that Evanston Township High School faces in the 2008-09 school year.

District 202 Chief Financial Officer Bill Stafford made recommendations to the board that included reducing certain services, cutting six teaching positions and persuading administrators not to retire early in order to avoid government-mandated penalties for early retirement.

Neither the board nor the district financial office could specify exactly which programs would be streamlined or eliminated, saying more research needed to be done. “Right now, our thinking is we wouldn’t want to be picking programs (simply) because we have to be picking programs,” said District 202 Superintendant Eric Witherspoon. “What we’d do instead is … looking for opportunities to maintain the programs we have.”

Board President Martha Burns said the board should adopt a “values-based” budget, giving appropriate funds to the most worthwhile and needy programs.

“We need to take another structural look at what is being done,” she said. “Are these programs meeting the goals that were set when they started?”

Stafford and Witherspoon said if the district approached the 2008-09 finances prudently, the district could avoid large deficits for the next few years, “so we won’t have to cut, cut, cut,” Witherspoon said.

Most of the proposed cuts would affect the district administration, including strategies to keep managers from retiring early and reorganizing the Information Technologies department. About one quarter of the cuts made would come from cutting teaching positions. Stafford emphasized that such reductions should be made as painlessly as possible, suggesting as an example that money could be saved when current teachers retire and their replacements are hired at a lower salary.

Transferring ETHS’ Adult Education services to Oakton Community College could save another $187,000, Stafford said.

Board member Omar Khuri proposed that the board go even further with cuts, especially considering the downturn of the real estate market because ETHS is funded primarily through property taxes.

“If the trends in the real estate continue to decline … that’s going to have a significant impact,” he said, mentioning plunging property values and a rising foreclosure rate. “It might be prudent to see if we couldn’t make ‘values-based’ budget cuts toward a surplus. … We could probably be seeing $1.8 or $1.9 million if we had a less conservative CFO.”

Stafford said this year the district’s finances were on target. About half of the education fund was spent by the end of December, the midpoint of the fiscal year. The fund makes up $51 million of the district’s $59 million budget.

Stafford also presented the results of the district’s 2006-07 audit, which resulted in an unexpected surplus. The board voted unanimously to accept the audit.

“We went in with a deficit and came out with a surplus,” Witherspoon said. “We came out very happy with that. It’s always good to have more revenues than expenditures.”

There was heated discussion at the end of the meeting about the hiring of Mike Burzawa as the new head coach of ETHS’ football team. Burns disapproved of the selection, saying that Burzawa’s experience in a predominantly white school did not qualify him to coach at multicultural ETHS.

“I feel that our students should have someone who has some experience with diversity,” she said.

Khuri and Witherspoon said they trusted the hiring committee’s experience, saying that all the job candidates were vetted by a multiracial committee.

“I don’t believe they are sacrificing anything or putting anything at risk by hiring a football expert who may have a predominantly white background,” Khouri said.

The board approved Burzawa’s nomination 5-1, with Burns dissenting.

The board also voted to submit a report to the state detailing ETHS efforts to monitor the progress of low-achieving students to the state of Illinois.

Reach Megan Crepeau at [email protected].

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Research needed to choose district’s programs to cut