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Our view: Sycamore's D-427 gets millions more dollars, but they're not enough

Published: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 12:19 a.m. CDT

Sycamore School District 427 is in the midst of a three-year budget reduction plan, which calls for the district to eliminate 40 jobs next school year, including several teaching positions through layoffs and attrition.

It’s become an annual occurrence this time of year. In recent years, district officials have eliminated coaching positions, left administrative positions to go dark, and yes, cut the positions of teachers and support staff. The district has run a deficit for each of the past five school years.

You might think that with all this deficit spending, the district is receiving less money for education – but that’s not so. In fact, the district’s budgets, which are available online, show the amount the district receives for education has increased almost 18 percent since 2012-13 – from $37 million to a budgeted $43.6 million this school year. (Although the budget for this school year did project a funding decrease of about $800,000 from the previous year.)

Even in years when the district’s budget called for millions of new dollars for education, the bottom line still showed a deficit. For example, the budget for 2014-15 called for a $3.6 million increase in funding and still projected at $2.9 million deficit.

What’s behind this? As district officials have reminded the public, salaries make up more than 80 percent of the district’s education spending.

What if, instead of being obligated to give all teachers a certain percentage raise each year according to union contract, school district officials could say, “This year, we expect to receive $2.4 million in new funding. We’re going to divide 80 percent of it up among our teachers according to their performance and seniority.”

If school officials in Sycamore and around Illinois were allowed to budget within taxpayers’ means, school librarians and special education aides wouldn’t have to lose their jobs. The youngest teachers wouldn’t have to worry every spring about being laid off while senior people receive raises of 6 percent in order to boost their pensions before they retire. 

This layoff trend, if it continues, will discourage young people from becoming teachers.

Union pay scales have made it impossible for school districts to manage their budgets year-to-year in a sensible way. Instead, we have a school district that receives more and more money for education each year and still has to cut staff.

The district’s most recent salary report shows that after the district superintendent and one building principal, the next-highest-paid employees are four teachers, each of whom is paid more than $100,000 in salary, plus more than $20,000 in additional benefits. They earn more than the other building principals, assistant principals or other administrators.

In the past five school years, the budgeted cost simply for instructional salaries and benefits in the district has grown almost 16 percent, from $20.1 million to $23.3 million a year. As the district was eliminating jobs to balance the books, others were getting raises.

DeKalb County homeowners pay some of the highest property taxes in the country, and most of the taxes they pay go to local schools. Sycamore property taxpayers contribute more than $22 million to the district. The state also has increased the amount it is providing. Yet year after year, we hear that it is not enough.

So long as we continue with the system we have, it will never be enough.

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