MAIN STREET CLOSED, IN BOTH DIRECTIONS, BETWEEN UNIVERSITY AND ELMWOOD
A public hearing at Hickory Grove Elementary School lasted more than two hours Wednesday night as dozens of people spoke out against proposed cuts at Dunlap District 323 schools.
The District is looking for a way to bridge a $2.1 million budget gap created by several years of increasing attendance and decreasing revenue. The proposal includes a hike in student fees, cutting electives, and laying-off 19 teachers.
Everyone who spoke at the hearing said the cuts went too far.
"We need to look deeper and say, 'Okay, what else is there? Have we exhausted all options?' Once we've exhausted all those options, then we start looking at these cuts," said John Allison, Co-President of the Dunlap Education Association.
Beginning band and orchestra at the elementary level are just two of the programs being cut. According to the District's report, that would save about $120,000.
"When you consider the millions and millions of dollars in the budget, this is very small," said Dunlap Valley Middle School Band Director Tina Holloway, adding that the small price tag of the programs pays out huge dividends in children's futures. "Corporations are not asking for people who spell better or even compute better. They're asking for people who are creative," she said.
Others wondered why administrators were not on the chopping block.
"We have taken administrative freezes in the coming years, we have reduced support to administration, and we are open in the future to reducing the actual numbers," said Superintendent Jay Marino. He also stressed that no cuts have been made yet, and the District will consider other options before making any final decisions this Spring.
Some residents felt that they were blind-sided by the news that the District was facing such dire financial straits. But Marino says they've been trying to tell them for two and a half years via print and online media. However, he said the turnout to Wednesday's meeting showed that the District needed to do a better job of communicating as this process moves along.
Part of the effort of better communication is evident in a social media page the District launched last Friday. While the School Board looks to finalize cuts, the public has a chance to voice its opinions through the Connect 323 website. More than 3,000 people visited the page, with hundreds making suggestions, in just under a week of it being set up.