Citizens voice concerns over cuts

By on February 5, 2010

by Susan O’Neill
Kaneland—There’s no question about it—Kaneland’s proposed cuts are not making anyone happy.

Kaneland’s Citizens Advisory Committee members, mostly parents, told the administration their concerns during a meeting held at the high school last Thursday. Some, like Mark Weintraub and Monica Kellen, voiced strong opposition to the idea of larger classroom sizes.

Kellen, whose child will soon start kindergarten, said she is opposed to classrooms with 30 students in them, which would be the result of cutting an additional one to two teachers at the elementary school level.

“I can’t imagine what kind of learning environment that would be,” she said.

Some members, such as Patrick Crimmins and Weintraub, said they were opposed to cutting gifted teachers and folding the gifted program into the response to intervention program.

Other members focused on the proposed cuts to the various activities and clubs. Some, such as George Silfugarian, suggested that, rather than cut some of the sports activities, parents be asked to pay higher fees.

He said that in looking at other options for his children in the community, he found fees in other leagues of about $350. With Kaneland’s fees currently at $100, his suggestion was to raise them to $300.

“I’d just as soon have them play at Kaneland,” he said.

Suzanne Fahnestock told the administrative panel that she gets upset when she looks at activities, such as band for the fifth graders or the outdoor education trips to Loredo Taft, being cut.

She said that before the children have to miss out on these and other valuable opportunities in the areas of fine arts, music and sports, she would like to see salary cuts and more position cuts looked at more seriously.

“At the last referendum, I encouraged others to vote yes,” she said. “My sons are not going to benefit from the referendum I voted for.”

Some individuals asked if more administrative positions could be cut instead. Several mentioned salary freezes as a way out. Although the teachers’ salaries are part of a negotiated contract, freezing the wages of non-union employees would realize a savings of $175,000.

Silfugarian said that wage freezes of the non-union employees could serve to put pressure on the teachers to offer to do the same.

“Many of our taxpayers are in that same position,” he said, referring to district residents who have either experienced pay cuts or who have lost their jobs altogether.

In the meantime, the Kaneland Educators Association has said that the membership will take a vote on Friday on whether or not to re-negotiate the salary increases for next year (see related story).

Silfugarian and others suggested that the schools could ask parents to help out with more activities, rather than to eliminate them.

“Perhaps more of the parents are willing to help out so some of these activities don’t get cut,” he said.

Bev Taylor, a committee member who is also a teacher in another district, said she appreciated everything that had been said and she knows how tough the situation is.

However, she said she would not want to do anything that would cause teachers to want to leave the district.

“One of our goals in our strategic plan is to attract and keep our quality teachers,” she said. “I want to be careful about that. I’ve been here when we got good teachers, and they left after a year. That hurt us. I don’t want to lose the best.”

Taylor said she would much rather see a salary freeze than cuts in positions.

“There’s people behind those positions,” she said. “There’s families behind those positions. It’s a balancing act—fifth grade band versus freezing or making cuts. We are going to make difficult decisions.”