O’Fallon school board reverses some cuts to teaching staff

The O’Fallon District 203 School Board revised a plan to cut some of O’Fallon Township High School’s teaching staff in the next school year.

Two days earlier, the school board had voted to cut $1 million from next year’s budget, including reductions in the certified teaching staff equivalent to 8.4 full-time positions. In board members’ revision, which was approved in an emergency meeting Thursday night, $610,000 in budget cuts for the 2017-18 school year will include:

▪  Reduction in certified teaching staff equivalent to four full-time positions in classroom sections based on enrollment. The board stated that it will work in collaboration with the O’Fallon teachers’ union on these cuts.

▪  Reduction in non-certified personnel equivalent to four full-time positions.

▪  Increase in athletic fees from $100 to $150 per participant.

▪  Increase in textbook and registration fees from $150 to $175 per student.

▪  Reduction of operating budget by $93,000.

The revised budget was approved unanimously by the board. The original plan had been approved by a majority, but board members Donna Johnson and Keith Richter had voted against it.

Under the revision, the board reinstated the early bird, or zero hour, program, which is a morning class period for students. The guidance and library staff are also no longer included in the reductions.

Decisions about specific teachers’ positions will be considered at the end of the month, according to school board president Lynda Cozad.

Superintendent Darcy Benway said the board will consider teacher layoffs based on student enrollment in classes as it does every year. Another way the teaching staff could see reductions is through attrition, or not replacing or rehiring teachers who retire or go on leave.

Monica Fletcher, a parent in the district, said she was leaving the meeting Thursday feeling “ecstatic.” She had been worried for her two children who are current students after the original plan was approved Tuesday.

“We all came away Tuesday night feeling defeated, demoralized,” Fletcher said. “... When the decision was made, it was like they didn’t hear any of the words these children had said.”

Benway said leading up to the emergency meeting Thursday, the board was having conversations with the teachers union about other options to address the deficit. She said the student voices that the board heard in previous meetings, phone calls and emails also had an impact on the decision to revise the plan.

Earlier Thursday, students had organized a walk-out at school to protest the previously approved cuts. Benway said the emergency meeting had already been called when the protest began.

One of the student organizers, Olivia Kloeckner, said she was motivated to help her teachers because they’ve affected her life.

“I owe everything the past four years to my teachers for giving me the opportunities that I had, for teaching me the things that I’ve learned,” she said. “They’re the ones that bond us; they’re the ones that make it worth coming to school every day.”

The 18-year-old sat with a bandaged knee propped on a chair during the meeting Thursday awaiting the board’s decision.

“I’m not even 12 hours out of surgery, and I’m here because that’s how much it means to me,” Olivia said. “That’s how much it means to stand up for what you believe in, for me.”

More people will have the opportunity to be involved in budget conversations moving forward, Benway said. The district will invite representatives from the different populations, including students, teacher, administrators, staff members and community members, to publicly discuss options for the future.

The district is still projecting a $2.3 million deficit by the 2017-18 school year.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

O’Fallon Progress reporter Robyn Kirsch contributed to this report.