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Local

Sycamore School District 427 board approves staff cuts

SYCAMORE – After parents and teachers raised concerns at a public hearing Tuesday, the Sycamore School District 427 board voted unanimously in favor of eliminating about 40 positions throughout the district.

Board members Diane Tyrrell and Donald Clayberg were absent.

Eight teachers and 20 full- and part-time support staff will lose their jobs, while other positions will be reduced through attrition, district officials said. The district will take action on teacher positions up for elimination March 11, and then on support staff spots April 14.

Board President Jim Dombek said the district would be looking to hire some staff members back through grants, but the board needed to take action on the reductions because the level of funding for those grants is uncertain.

Annie Miller, a parent and Sycamore Middle School teacher, teared up as she addressed the board and said the district should seek other means of financial assistance before cutting more teachers and staff.

“I don’t know how we’re going to do any more with any less; it is only affecting our kids,” she said. “I feel like we’re setting them up for failure, and it makes me sad.”

Coni Stracner, a teacher at Sycamore Middle School, said she was concerned about the future of the school’s library, as a librarian position was among those identified for elimination.

She said eliminating a position of a certified librarian would “only be detrimental to the needs of faculty and students.”

“A certified librarian is a necessity to maintain the academic integrity of the middle school library,” Stracner said.

Parent Natalie Nelson said eliminating positions such as counselors and special-education teachers and aides would disproportionately affect the students who need the most services, such as her fourth-grade son with autism and ADHD.

“There are times when my son’s special-education teacher is not available because they’re sharing her with the other school,” Nelson said. “This kid is melting down, and there’s nobody there who is assigned to help.”

Kelly Meyer, a nurse for Sycamore schools, questioned why the district was not considering cuts to sports programs and suggested putting together a task force to look at alternative ways to reduce spending in the future.

“There’s got to be something else,” she said. “Our state is a mess, and I don’t think putting it on the backs of our most important asset, our teachers, is fair.”

Dombek said the district does not have as many tools as other governmental units for raising revenue.

“Our hands are somewhat tied in that the only way we have to raise revenue is property taxes, and our property taxes are capped,” he said.

The personnel cuts are part of the district’s three-year plan to reach a balanced budget by the end of the 2017-18 school year and reduce deficit spending, which will require a $2.3 million reduction next year.

This school year, the district cut $2.8 million in spending after a $1.1 million reduction in the 2015-16 school year.

Chief Financial Officer Nicole Stuckert said the district has been deficit spending for the past eight to 10 years. She said 18 percent of the district’s revenue comes from general state aid that is distributed through 24 categorical payments; however, it has not received any of the $9 million it is owed for 2017.

The plan reduces five core curriculum teachers, four reading teachers, three special-education teachers, 3.2 library, physical education, technology or art teachers, and 1.6 elective-course teachers. It also eliminates part-time social worker and school counselor positions and a school nurse.

From the support staff, 10 teacher’s aide positions will be eliminated, along with two math interventionists, six reading interventionists, an office secretary, a security guard and a technology assistant.

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