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D65: Quality vs Quantity

Spreading services progressively thinner, while a more marketable idea, degrades the quality of education that children receive. We need to reframe the budget discussion as "needs before wants."

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.

Michele Hays

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Michele S. Hays May 24, 2012 at 09:49 PM
I have two issues with your response: just because an income is public record and paid by taxpayers does not make my question invalid. Your income matters, as you are a taxpayer. Second, many public sector employees have been through exactly the same situation you are in right now, as there have been numerous layoffs - their income is also now not what it was in past times. I am sorry to hear that you're having financial difficulty, but the answer is not taking out your frustration on government employees. And I have to say, I can't understand why you wouldn't take "government assistance," as you call it. You paid for it, and that's exactly why it exists: because a downturn in the market can happen any time, and can affect anybody. We cooperate to support each other when the need arises: that's what assistance is about.
Meghan Vinson May 25, 2012 at 03:43 AM
In addition to what Michele said, it is often The Fine Arts staff who is instrumental in planning school-wide projects that tie together curricula. At my childrens' school, between the art & music teacher, they offer 6 extracurricular clubs that are free & open to all students. These include our school choir, a drum group, a recorder club, a mural club & a pottery class. Our school has a high percentage of low income children who don't enjoy the myriad of extra activities many other kids have access to. Our school also contains 3 academic strands & these various projects & activities are what brings these groups together. The extra planning periods the Fine Arts teachers have now are spent working on these projects & conducting rehearsals. Both our art & music teachers even open their classrooms up at lunch to meet with groups of students who often choose to give up recess because they are so excited about what they're working on. If this planning time is filled with travel time & additional class load there will be so much lost that can't begin to be calculated in minutes.
Richard Schulte May 25, 2012 at 10:37 AM
Ms. Hays: "And I have to say, I can't understand why you wouldn't take "government assistance," as you call it. You paid for it, and that's exactly why it exists: because a downturn in the market can happen any time, and can affect anybody." You fail to understand that accepting government assistance robs people of their dignity and self-respect. Given a choice between losing my dignity and self-respect and not eating, I chose not to eat. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself without government assistance. Government assistance should be reserved for those who are truly incapable of taking care of themselves-those with disabilities that make it impossible for them to work and earn a living. Recessions are part of the normal business cycle. Recessions typically last about 11 months and then things get back to normal. Government policies have caused this recession to drag on for 4 years. I am not taking my frustration out on public employees. Public employees have no right to a job in government and should be expected to actually do the job they were hired to do. Teachers and administrators salaries in public education far exceed those in the private sector. A physical education "teacher" at Stevenson High School is the highest paid teacher in Illinois. It is my understanding that his pay is close to $200 thousand, excluding benefits. It's a minimum wage job.
Jim May 25, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Since we don't have a rural economy any more, the public schools have been given the job of entertaining children for the daytime hours, keeping order, motivating AND trying to teach basic skills across classrooms with varied student interest and ability. A near impossible task. I would suggest that anyone who teaches, other than those who are burned out, do so because they like young people and wish to contribute to their lives. They deserve adequate salaries and benefits. But, as the living standard in the US comes down, absolute needs trump other nice but not necessary activities and that applies across all professions and jobs. Difficult choices but they will be made by economic reality if not by choice. Society will be well served if the elementary and middle schools succeed in teaching their students to read, write, speak and socialize sufficiently to allow them to go on to the next level. Students who are interested in the arts and music etc will find a way on their own to pursue those things. The public schools will never be able to compete with private schools in terms of providing all of the goodies just as national healthcare or public defender justice will not be able to compete with wealtier citizens who can buy their way to a higher tier. That will always be the case regardless of how egalitarian society becomes unless of course you wish to ignore history, force the issue and make everyone equally dissatisfied, limited and unhappy.
Michele S. Hays May 28, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Do you also believe insurance "robs people of their dignity and self-respect?" My point is this: the difference you describe between public and private employees may well be there, but, because public employees must serve in good times or bad (unless we are able cut out their jobs,) their salaries seem high during a recession. Nobody seems to notice that their salaries do not make the exponential increases that can be seen in the private sector during "boom" times. You might be comfortable with minimum wage employees educating your kids, but I am not. I am well aware that you get what you pay for when it comes to education; it's worthwhile to note that while New Jersey ranks 2nd in per capita spending on elementary education (2006,) it also ranks 2nd in per capita income (2008.)

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