I am well aware of the difficult budget climate in District 65, and I applaud our school board for serving the community at such a challenging time. There are only two answers to a budget crisis: take in more money, or spend less money. At some point, if the citizens of Evanston aren't able or willing to financially support the current school system, we need to make cuts in the services offered.
My general concern is this: if we are going to cut services, we should cut them. Spreading services progressively thinner and thinner, while a more marketable idea, degrades the quality of education that children receive in our school system. It's easy for administrators to say that we can do more with less, but in practical terms, making teachers work more hours in more schools means they have to waste precious instructional time on travel, administration, classroom management and other off-task activity.
All students will be impacted by cuts in PE and Fine Arts, and many parents have expressed their concerns about these reductions. I want to express particular concern about the planned reductions in special services staff, as the district has a legal obligation to offer these services to students who need them. Reductions in service for students protected by IDEA can have several consequences: it leaves the District open to lawsuits, students not receiving the supports they need may cause struggling schools not to meet AYP, and overtaxed staff (who work in a situation where consistency is paramount) are likely to leave and need to be replaced. I am also concerned that schools with overtaxed special services budgets may feel the need to hoard services and offer triage rather than the support these students are legally due. As it is, I am aware that much of the support staff already serves students in several schools around the District, creating a chaotic work environment for staff tasked with a particularly difficult job. In this area, D65 should be considering an increase in staff, not reductions.
At some point we need to stop pretending that we can address the budget situation without eliminating specific services, or increasing the tax levy. I think we need to start framing the budget discussion as "needs before wants." Some classes and services offered in D65 are required in the state of Illinois; some are not. While I want my child to recieve the same education as the children who attended school before him, I would rather he receive less education in Fine Arts than a poor education in Fine Arts. Most importantly, I think the only way to communicate the District's current financial situation is show citizens that without appropriate financial support, the type of education they have come to expect from Evanston schools is at risk.