New school years often come with excitement and joy – new teachers, new friends and new opportunities for students to get engaged. But this school year, Center Cass School District 66 students and staff are facing a host of something no one wants: new budget cuts.
About 60% of residents voted against the limiting tax rate increase referendum the district proposed in June, citing numerous reasons. While the district has made the decision to place a similar referendum on the November ballot, cuts already have been made in many areas.
“Before the referendum failed, we were already understaffed and already doing without so many things,” Superintendent Andrew Wise said. “We’ve had to make even deeper cuts, and we’re not making cuts from a place of adequacy, so additional cuts only put that much more strain on our organization.”
Transportation routes have been cut almost in half, from the district having 10 bus routes last school year to six this school year. As a result, buses are more crowded and routes are longer, cutting the school day 30 minutes shorter in terms of instructional time. Extracurriculars and activities have been cut, and staff reductions have begun, including cuts to all custodial staff, leaving the district with only the legal necessities, Wise said.
Wise said the June referendum would have prevented these cuts and helped the district improve its financial status, but with that effort having failed, the November referendum has become even more necessary. If passed, the November referendum will help the district restore some of its cuts and “start to turn things around,” Wise said.
“We’re so bare-boned that the cuts are just what’s left,” Wise said. “Another round of cuts have been approved for next year if we don’t get the money [from the referendum] because we have to operate within the money we’re given.”
Elizabeth Uribe, a parent of two children in the district, said she understands why the board has had to make these tough decisions but that doesn’t make the cuts any less heartbreaking. Uribe believes the November referendum is critical to keeping the district alive, even though the lowered tax rate increase will not provide the same potential as the June referendum would have.
For parents whose children have not aged into the district yet, the financial status of the district is proving to be a potential reason to move out of the area altogether. Nikki Giancola is one of those parents and is struggling to decide whether her children will receive everything they need at District 66 if the November referendum does not pass.
“This is a place you want to settle down in, but without a good district, why come or stay,” Giancola said. “If you look at [the community] as a whole, it’s hard to think this is OK.”
Giancola and Uribe are part of the Save 66 group, a community organization formed by residents who support the district’s referendum efforts. The group began its work with the June referendum and is continuing to advocate for the district with hopes of getting the November referendum passed.
With cuts having been put in place, Giancola said many parents have reached out to Save 66 to express their concerns, anger and sadness. Uribe said much of the frustration is a result of the lowered ask for the November referendum, which she said limits the potential from what it could have been had the June referendum passed.
“The district recognizes that the schools belong to the community, so it’s listening to the community, which you want your district to do, but we still need significant funds and we’re headed to nothing,” Uribe said. “We hope the community will see this as a compromise and maybe now look at some of the cuts that had to happen and look at the schools and resources and then vote accordingly.”