Putting names to the numbers

By on March 26, 2010

Kaneland sends dismissal notices to cut staff members
by Susan O’Neill
[quote]Kaneland—For the first time, individual teacher’s names are part of the record, with the reality hitting home for everyone involved. The Kaneland School Board on Monday approved resolutions authorizing the administration to provide notice of their dismissal of 118 teachers and professional staff.

“I don’t take much comfort in knowing that it’s happening everywhere,” board member Cheryl Krauspe said. “We signed the releases with the people’s names on it, and I feel bad for each and every one of them.”

Krauspe, a teacher of 35 years in another district, said what breaks her heart is that some of the talented teachers and other professionals the district has invested in and mentored will end up leaving the profession.

“They went into the profession because they were passionate about students, and we will lose that,” she said. “That’s the tragedy.”

An official letter was given to the teachers and other professional staff this week of the non-renewal of their contracts and their dismissal, hitting a note of finality for them, as well.

McDole computer and technology teacher Jeremy Berger, a fourth-year teacher who was informed that he would be part of the reduction in force, came to speak to the board at Monday’s meeting about the importance of the technology program at the elementary school level.

Berger is also the father of a Kaneland student. He may not know if he has a job at Kaneland next year until mid-summer.

He is just one of the teachers, social workers, counselors, psychologists and speech therapists whose lives have been put in limbo this week.

Of the 15 part-time, 24 first-, 37-second and 33-third year teachers, as well as nine of the 42 fourth-year teachers and professional staff who received the letter, approximately 40 to 50 will not come back to Kaneland next year. According to Associate Superintendent Jeff Schuler, notifying this number of staff 45 days prior to the end of the school year was necessary to give the district the flexibility it needs to reorganize and restructure the district in response to a potential $2.2 million financial shortfall from the state.

Members of the School Board and administration went into an executive closed session to discuss the cuts and their impacts on programs, classes and class sizes, Board President Lisa Wiet said. Although there have been cuts in activities, clubs and competitive sports, the remaining reductions will necessarily come from letting people go, she said.

“Education is people; 80 percent of the cost of running a school district is in salaries and benefits,” she said.

The task for school administrators in the coming weeks will be to come up with recommendations that they will present to the board for discussion at its April 12 meeting. Wiet said they will take into consideration the input and feedback from the public, parents and members of the various advisory committees as they make these choices.

“We want to do what is absolutely the best for the education of the children,” Wiet said.

The impact on the children of the up to $5 million in cuts is not yet known. Class sizes will likely be larger; programs will likely be cut or reduced.

What is known is that the first round of cuts limits the opportunities for some students to participate in after-school activities and clubs.

Of the 11 clubs that will be eliminated at the high school level, members of the Chess Club have been the most vocal on the impact of its elimination. According to data the administration gathered, Chess Club members are the students least likely to participate in other activities.

“I’m not strong. I’m not fast,” chess player Zach Brown said. “The Chess Club is the only way I can represent Kaneland.”

Another member, Alex Siebert, said that the club links him with others at school in a social way, as well as helping him with the skills necessary to learn.

“Without chess, school would be boring,” he said. “It (also) gives me an opportunity to use my mind and to improve my critical thinking skills.”

While the competitive sports programs at the middle school level will be cut, Principal Rick Burchell has plans for an intramural sports program that he said will offer more activities to more students for about 25 percent of the cost.

Parents and other community members have already started to come forward to offer help and assistance with sports and some of the other affected programs.

The board will vote on the second round of cuts at its May 24 meeting.