Budget issues return as school starts

Friday, August 20, 2010

The summer is always a slow time for schools (and school reporters), but the return of students in the fall has a way of quickly bringing issues back to the fore.
In most school districts in Illinois, the main issue right now is the state's budget crisis and how the crunch is affecting students.

The impact of the state's budget mess was apparent on Monday, the first day of school in Community Unit District 300.

I visited some Jacobs High School classrooms packed with more than 40 students. In one of the classrooms, a Spanish class, one student was almost out the door.

Scarce resources force difficult decisions. In this case, Jacobs administrators decided to keep class sizes down in critical areas like reading and math. That meant that less-essential classes like foreign languages had to be larger.

The silver lining is in the jobs bill President Obama signed last week. District 300 estimates it could get $1 million from the new funding, with other area districts also in line for a piece of the pie - based on the share of state aid they typically receive.

For District 300, that could mean the district hires back 20 or more teachers. The district hopes to target the largest classes, many of which are concentrated at the high schools.

Cary Elementary District 26, meanwhile, is looking to a parent group to rescue its teachers and programs.

The parent group, which has offered $4.3 million to restore programs and bring back laid-off teachers, expects the board to vote on whether to accept the parents' offer on Monday.

If the board says yes to the offer, the foundation is supposed to provide proof they have they money in hand.

So far, board members have been skeptical, but the real test will come after Monday, when (one can only hope) District 26's lawyers will carefully verify the funds are in the bank, that the money was obtained legally and that the district is not at risk by accepting the grant.

Monday could also be an interesting night for District 300. The school board is scheduled to meet for the first time since the start of school.

A group of Pingree Grove parents upset over busing changes are expected to turn out to make their case to the board.

The parents argue busing changes designed to make routes more efficient have made the children who wait at those stops less safe.

The district says the routes are safe and the conditions along those routes are no different from those in other neighborhoods in the district.

Whomever you think is right, one thing is certain - school is back in session.