Budget forum attendees want administrative discussion

The third and final School District 51 community budget forum Thursday at Redlands Middle School focused on the same four topic areas discussed at the two previous forums this month in other locations.

As with the second forum, which took place Feb. 16, audience members were willing to discuss the topics of potential budget cuts in school bus transportation and extracurricular activities, the possibility of closing a school or adopting a four-day school week. But many of the approximately 175 attendees at Thursday’s meeting wondered aloud why a fifth topic had not been introduced for discussion by the district: administrative budget cuts.

“I want to get into where we’re spending millions and millions,” audience member Tim Fenwick said. “We do not need people sitting on their butts in an office and taking salaries away from teachers and school bus drivers.”

The forums were hosted to provide community input to a newly formed citizen budget-advisory committee for District 51. David Combs, a member of that committee, told people at Thursday’s forum the committee is treating teachers’ salaries “like hands-off mandates,” but the same is not true for administrative salaries.

“We believe much of where the cutting will take place is at the administrative level,” he said.

People at each forum were asked to offer opinions on potential budget cuts through written and spoken comments. Attendees also were asked to vote on questions electronically.

The district handed out devices that allowed people at each meeting to select an “A” or “B” answer to a question and have their pick sent to a computer that tabulated the results. There were enough devices to go around at the first two forums, which had about 60 and 100 attendees, respectively. But the large crowd at the final forum meant not everyone got one of the 120 voting devices.

The idea of closing a school or schools became less popular with each forum.

Fifty-two percent of people at the first forum voted against the idea, followed by 84 percent of attendees at the second forum. Thursday night, 88 percent of forum attendees voted against the idea.

The idea of closing a district-owned building instead of a school also is being considered. District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita revealed Thursday night the district is considering closing the Basil T. Knight Center, which hosts the district’s curriculum department, among others. She said the amount of money that would be saved by the potential closure remains to be determined.

Consistently panned suggestions at the forums included eliminating busing for most students and eliminating extracurricular and athletic activities.

The ideas of going to a four-day school week, charging for busing, increasing fees for after-school activities, and extending walking boundaries, especially for middle school and high school students, got more traction at each forum.


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