News Article Details

D204 board puts deferred maintenance work, more mental health staff among the top priorities for coming school year

Naperville Sun - 8/15/2018

Aug. 14--Indian Prairie District 204 will continue to "chip-away" at a list of projects deemed priorities by the community.

School administrators this week outlined for the school board a plan to tackle the ideas suggested by the public at a series of community talks last year.

An advisory group of parent leaders tabulated the results from the sessions and found reducing class sizes, at an estimated cost of $16.7 million annually, was the chief concern for those in attendance.

Second was spending $10 million on maintenance work that's been deferred, and third was raising teacher salaries at a cost of $7.5 million.

Other priorities listed by the public included hiring additional mental health staff ($4.2 million annually), improving school security ($2 million), finding space for the alternative high school and STEPs programs ($1.2 million), finishing the elementary air-conditioning project ($7 million) and spending an additional $4 million annually on capital maintenance work.

Board President Michael Raczak said he heard no one at a community session suggest the district consider asking for additional money to fund such efforts, "nor did I hear from our parent leaders that we should go for a referendum."

"I think we need to respond to our community and respond to what we heard," Raczak said. "We have to be financially responsible and chip-away at this stuff."

Working within the district budget, the administration determined during the 2018-19 school year the district could perform some deferred maintenance work, hire additional mental health personnel and finish another phase of the elementary air-conditioning project.

Chief School Business Official Jay Strang the district also plans to start upgrading in the intercom systems in all of the school and door locks in each classroom. Because the district has so many schools and classrooms, the work will require multiple years to complete, he said.

Louis Lee, assistant superintendent for high schools, told the board he expects to identify a new location for Indian Plains Alternative High School in the coming weeks so the move can be made in time for the 2019-20 school year.

Lee also said STEPS, the Supported Training Experiences Post Secondary program for young adults with disabilities, will be consolidated at the Birkett Center at Neuqua Valley High School for all but 16 students, who will be housed at Waubonsie Valley.

While those items were listed as immediate, raising teacher salaries was listed as an intermediate goal as the new teacher contract was approved in late spring.

Reducing class sizes and adding $4 million a year to the district's capital maintenance spending were listed by administrators as long-term projects.

Board member Lori Price said reducing class sizes is important, but the school district can't absorb the $16.7 million annual cost right now.

"I don't want people to confuse long-term planning with, 'Oh, we're going to push that down the road,' because that's not what this is," Price said.

Price did note the district did not reduce the number of teachers despite the district's declining enrollment.

Three leaders of PAGES, which stands for Parents Advocating for Greater Enrichment of Students, urged the board not to forget educational equity and the achievement gap in its look at district financial priorities.

AJ Collier said PAGES agrees with the priorities outlined by the district. "It's also very important, however, to note there are certain items can't be relegated to a popularity contest," she said.

"Education institutions must educate," Collier said. "Those institutions cannot work for some and not for others."

Elona Erastus said while the district has taken steps through Equal Opportunity Schools and other programs, "we need not forget the African-American students who are struggling."

"The one thing we must not do is to acclimatize to the status quo. We need to shatter the status quo," she said.

Bertha Jackson said decreasing class sizes would help as well as hiring additional mental health workers. She also urged the district to consider staff diversity when the new workers are added.

subaker@tribpub.com

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(c)2018 the Naperville Sun (Naperville, Ill.)

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