Just as the real estate industry hinges on the mantra "location, location, location," school districts lean just as heavily on "budgets, budgets, budgets."
In the midst of this year's recession, people, businesses and governments have grappled with budget cuts and layoffs. Illinois schools are certainly not immune to this—while local schools have kicked off the school year and students are in class, budgets and revenue--or the lack thereof--continue to disrupt some curriculums and programming.
Des Plaines School District 62 is still waiting for the state to deliver its $1.44 million in delayed grants, which forced school officials to cut the Project Prevent curriculum from the school day, said Mindy Ward, the director of community relations for the district.
Project Prevent is an intensive reading program for struggling elementary students. Trained paraprofessionals, or tutors, work with small groups or on a one-on-one basis with struggling readers during the school day to help them improve their reading comprehension and fluency. Because the district hasn't received the money from the state, the program was suspended for the first time in at least six years because the district couldn't afford to hire the paraprofessionals, Ward said.
"This is a problem that school board members, administrators and teachers are looking to solve everyday," she said. "We don't have a definitive answer."
School officials are trying to compensate by training teachers on the program's elements and helping them implement parts of it in their classrooms.
Class sizes in District 62 have remained pretty much the same, although the school district has fewer teachers--mostly due to retirements and not layoffs. The district has seen how the recession has affected students and their families: the percentage of students who qualify for the free or discounted lunch has grown from 39 percent last year to 44 percent this year. Local businesses have been helpful in donating school supplies and winter clothing to needy students, Ward said.
But problems in budgeting and fluctuations in revenue is something that goes on all the time, she said. The state might budget a certain amount of money for a school district, but when it comes time to dole out that money, it might not have it, putting school districts on hold.
"The uncertainty of funding is hard for administrators and teachers," Ward said, adding that it is frustrating to have successful programs in place that are increasing student achievement, only to have to cut them when state funding doesn't come through.
Volunteer programs have been helpful in offsetting some of the program cuts, Ward said. Oasis, part of the district's volunteer program, trains senior citizens on how to help students and teachers in the classroom. To learn more about this program and how to volunteer, click here.
Part of the solution to budgeting woes has been found at Community Consolidated School District 59, which credits its smooth transition into the school year with smart long-term planning. The district has installed new computers and implemented a new inquiry-based science curriculum this school year.
"[Assistant Superintendent for Business Ruth Gloede] has done a great job in the good times and the bad," said Betsy Boswell, executive assistant and public information coordinator for the district.
The unpredictability in the revenue stream does make planning difficult, but District 59, which had no layoffs or increases in class sizes this year, benefits from a strong local tax base and stable property taxes, which fund schools, Gloede said.
Overall, though, long-term planning is key, she said, noting that finding a "sustainable position" financially is important.
"We try to make the easy decisions now so that we can avoid hard decisions later," Gloede said.
Editors Note: For more information on Patch's EduNation Series, click here.