The question Genoa District 424 school board members have to ask themselves is: What now?
School officials estimate the district will run a $1.4 million deficit this fiscal year. One proposal to take a bite out of that number was to outsource the district’s food service and transportation operations.
This was the first time in five years that the school board could consider the issue because a union contract had just expired.
District staff estimated the plan could have saved $1.5 million over three years. But school board members, in the face of public outcry that almost 40 transportation and food-service workers couldn’t be outsourced “for the kids,” rejected the plan Sunday with a pair of 4-3 votes.
So, what now?
A $1.4 million deficit is not sustainable. It’s not reasonable to expect any increased state aid in the years ahead – if anything, that revenue source probably will continue to shrink. And almost all of Illinois’ public school districts could be affected in the future by a plan to make them bear the burden of funding educators’ pension programs.
Would Genoa schoolchildren really have been less safe if workers from an outside contractor – most of them probably current district employees – cooked the casserole and drove the school buses? Probably not, but that’s a moot point.
The relevant fact is that the district’s budget deficit remains. Inaction is not a viable choice.
We suspect the community support for the bus drivers and food servers was not a vote for cuts to school programs, teacher layoffs, or a future property tax increase.
Those are the painful remedies that eventually become necessary when a school district chooses not to address financial shortfalls, which have a tendency to grow larger with each passing year.
Now that the school board has decided to stick with the old, more expensive way of doing business, it’s time to negotiate a labor deal.
The bargaining process should be conducted with the district’s current situation in mind, and all involved should be willing to make hard choices and concessions.