There's still a long way to go, but Dunlap Community Unit School District #323 officials feel they are inching towards a fair solution to the system's substantial money problems.
The District is facing a $2.1 million dollar deficit after years of increasing attendance and decreasing revenues. The first deficit mitigation plan, announced Jan. 15, proposed cutting several school programs and the laying-off of roughly 19 teachers. The plan drew the ire of teachers and parents, hundreds of whom turned up to a public meeting to voice their outrage.
The second plan, unveiled at a special Board of Education meeting Monday night, has a slightly softer touch. Several programs, like elementary band and orchestra, are reinstated, and the number of teacher positions eliminated was down to 17.
"We mainly focused on raising revenue. It allows us to not do as many reductions and still meet our bottom dollar of $2.1 million," said Superintendent Dr. Jay Marino.
One of the increases in revenue comes in the form of an automatic, $100-per-student activity fee.
"That's going to generate about $180,000. That's about three staff members," Marino said.
The notion of selling ad space was broached as a revenue generator, although the District has not fully researched that idea.
The District also plans to dig a little deeper into its savings. The new proposal takes $225,000 out of reserves, an increase of about $11,000 from the initial draft.
"We've put money away for a rainy day, and it's raining. We just don't want to get into a situation where that becomes the norm. You know, you don't live out of your savings account, you live out of your checking account," he said.
The Dunlap Education Association says the new plan is a step in the right direction, but Co-President John Allison still balks at the number of teachers who would lose their jobs.
"You can't continue to deliver the quality of education that we're delivering by cutting teachers," Allison said.
He said the new teacher contract, which was approved just before the deficit mitigation plan was discussed, should be a show of good faith towards the District.
"We've helped them out with the contract, and now we're asking the district to help us out by exploring other avenues to fix this financial situation," he said.
The three-year contract includes a "soft freeze" on raises in its first year, followed by a 2.75% and 3.3% increase in years two and three.
Allison says he looks forward to working with District officials as the plan is perfected.
District officials Monday stressed that no action has been taken yet, adding that they encouraged all Dunlap stakeholders to get involved in the process either by attending meetings or passing along suggestions. A final decision will be made this Spring.