Implementing Engage 204 Results

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The Engage 204 program, which ran sessions from November last year through March this year, revealed the greatest desires from the public for changes or improvements to District 204.

In order of most to least popular, those changes are: reducing class sizes, completing deferred maintenance projects, increasing teacher salaries, hiring additional support staff, improving school safety with new locks and intercoms, finding space for the alternative high school and the STEPS program, completing elementary air conditioning, and increasing capital maintenance spending to the recommended level.

District 204 does not have the cash to do these all at once, so the administration rolled out their recommendation on how to tackle these issues.

Some items are set for immediate planning like adding air conditioning to more elementary school classrooms and finding a new home for the alternative high school. Raising teacher salaries is seen as an intermediate plan: a new contract giving teachers raises was just approved and will expire in 2022. Increasing capital maintenance spending and reducing class sizes are considered long-term plans.

“I think we need to respond to our community and we need to respond to what we heard,” said Michael Raczak, president of the District 204 School Board. “But we need to do what we need to do and that is be financially responsible and chip away at this stuff.”

The board generally agreed with the administration’s plans, with a few variations. School Board Vice President Justin Karubas wants to see increased capital maintenance spending come sooner rather than later.

“It seems like we’re in a vicious cycle here. If we have a deferred maintenance spending plan but still have deficiencies we’re digging out of the hole and digging in at the same time,” said Karubas.

Something of note is the placement of reducing class sizes as a long-term plan even though it was the number one priority from the community.

The district says that the hefty price tag of $16.7 million annually to reduce average class size from 27 students to 24 makes a long-term plan necessary.

“I don’t want people to confuse long-term planning with ‘oh we’re just going to push that down the road,’” said Lori Price, secretary of the school board. “We’ve all put a lot of thought into this. Just because class size is shown as number one but it’s a long-term plan, well, it has to be a long-term plan with this amount of money it’s going to cost.”

Although the new evidence based funding model has given a bump to District 204’s revenue, it’s still considered underfunded by the model itself. With only about 80 percent of the funding it says is adequate.

For comparison, District 203, with more property wealth, has almost 120 percent of the funding considered adequate by the model.

Naperville News 17’s Blane Erwin reports.