Guest Editorial: Budget cuts are necessary to equalize services, funding

By on January 14, 2010

by Charlie McCormick
Kaneland Superintendent

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, recently made the following observation: “The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide … and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services.”

While Mr. Elmendorf’s perspective is national, his observation is applicable to all levels of government and government-funded services.

The financial conditions Mr. Elmendorf mentions—less revenue than needed to support current services—are no stranger to our local communities. They are evident through job losses, underemployment, home foreclosures, homes for sale and difficulty getting loans. They are also apparent in the form of shrinking government budgets and services. The latter is the case for Kaneland.

For many years Kaneland has operated on a very conservative and efficient fiscal footing. The district has traditionally carried relatively small fund balances from year to year, believing that the community did not want the district holding significant sums of money in its accounts. In the face of the current perfect financial storm we all face, this means that Kaneland has practically no reserves for absorbing the loss of revenue. Perhaps in the future, the approach of operating with very limited fund balances needs to be reconsidered.

Kaneland has encountered tight financial circumstances in the past and has taken this situation to the community in the form of Education Fund referendums. No one assumes that this is a possibility now or that significant additional state or local revenue will magically appear in the near future. And so, these current financial challenges can only be addressed through budget cuts, just like in your homes or at the businesses where you work.

The administration has undertaken a line-by-line review of the School District’s budget. As we continue to work with staff to review the budget and set priorities for next year, it is becoming increasingly clear that the decisions that will be required to balance the budget will have undesirable effects on students, staff members and parents. These negative effects will come from the elimination of specific costs from the budget or in changes as to how school programs and services are provided.

The budget cannot be balanced without this being the case, given the magnitude of overall cost reduction that is required—$3,000,000 for the 2010-11 budget. And, this is the case with the district having already eliminated costs and positions from the budget of more than a million dollars from last year to this year.

What is being considered for possible cost reduction or elimination? The simple answer to this question is that everything that contributes to cost is being considered—programs, services, extra-curricular activities and athletics, support service positions, teaching positions, administrative positions, salaries, insurance costs, staff development, refreshments, travel, bussing, utility costs, books, equipment, supplies, etc. As we review the budget line-by-line, we are asking why every cost is essential to the core functions of the schools and School District.

We have reviewed specific budget cuts with an eye toward their impacts and their relationships with one another. The administration’s goal is to bring the board a general and preliminary recommendation as to how the budget for 2010-11 can be balanced in January. While we intend to be as open, transparent and caring in this process as possible, we recognize that the resulting budget cuts will be painful and frustrating for many people. Due to the legal requirements regarding staffing decisions, this process must be resolved by the end of February.

It is important for the community to be aware of pending budget cuts as they may have significant impacts on various aspects of the school’s operations, programs, services, students and staff. It is also important for you to know that we are resilient. And while things cannot and will not be the same in the short term as we make the decisions necessary to function within the resources available to the School District, our students will be OK.

Things go in cycles and this has occurred in the past. The district may in fact be a better organization for having had to engage in such a detailed cost analysis. Please know that all of us at Kaneland will keep our focus on continuing to offer the best we can for Kaneland students. The times will be tough, but so will we.