When the Citizens Ad Hoc Budget Committee delivered its report Monday to the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board, its chairman, Mark Sloane, was quick to point out that its 30 budget-cutting ideas were merely “potential solutions” and not actual recommendations.
While he listed just a few of them in his oral presentation, the written report spells them out in some greater detail.
The first three pertain to salary structure reform:
1. Structurally reduce the growth in salary expense by changing base-step salary structure to contain a single seniority/cost of living increase and changing the track system to incorporate performance metrics.
2. Consider ways to limit the rate of growth in salaries so it does not exceed the rate of
growth in revenues. For example, tie raises to the consumer price index.
3. Consider a temporary salary and hiring freeze.
The next five address the rising cost of employee benefits:
4. Negotiate wellness initiatives/incentives with health care providers.
5. Audit health insurance beneficiaries.
6. Revisit approach to insurance plan design.
7. Reduce benefits for new hires.
8. Limit rate of growth in employee health benefits.In a special note, the committee suggested that salaries and benefits be considered together when examining costs across the district, especially when negotiating with the teachers union.
The next five suggest that resources be leveraged to reduce staff-to-student ratios:
9. Allow attrition, rather than filling positions vacated due to retirement, relocations, and the like, as a tool to reduce the number of employees.
10. Maintain certified support staff at nationally?recognized standard levels. Currently, the report notes, the district has a higher ratio of support staff than national standards recommend.
11. Use class size guidelines to staff District 65, which may increase class size by two or three students.
12. Seek strategic support in the classroom from Northwestern University or other institutions of higher learning.
13. Leverage technological innovations.
14. Consider the financial and educational feasibility of merging District 65 and District 202 to save duplicative costs while enhancing educational continuity.
The next six focus on possible revenue enhancements:
15. Work with the City of Evanston and Village of Skokie to develop strategies to
encourage economic development that adds high property tax value to tax rolls.
16. Collaborate with the City of Evanston in its efforts to assess tax exempt status of
17. Explore alternative investment strategies for fund balances.
18. Approach the City of Evanston for TIF revenues.
19. Seek payments in lieu of taxes from Northwestern University. Because the district and the university share a common mission, education, it makes more sense for the university to contribute to local school districts than to the municipality. Also, the committee contends that a strong public school system helps the university attract and retain faculty and staff.
20. Seek philanthropic support.
21. Lease or sell District 65 unused or underutilized assets, such as the land just north of the district headquarters.
22. Propose a referendum to override the property tax cap. As it turns out, this potential solution is currently under consideration by the Board. Sloane, however, said that this should be the district’s option of last resort.
The final category involves possible expense reductions:
23. Ask District 65 employees for their ideas to reduce expenditures, increase
productivity, or increase revenues.
24. Seek to streamline processes, such as offering paperless registration.
25. Review previous report produced by consultant/efficiency expert to examine
district processes and procedures which can improve efficiency.
26. Reduce absenteeism and substitute teacher costs in partnership with bargaining
27. Provide early retirement incentives.
28. Reduce the costs associated with enrichment programs.
29. Reduce the transportation budget by considering, for example, alternative bus-service providers and alternative transportation modes.
30. End subsidization of union leadership. Currently, the district pays the fulltime salary and benefits of the union president while on leave to lead union activities. In exchange, the union pays District 65 the salary of a Track II, Step I teacher. The committee recommends putting the union president on unpaid leave and letting the union pay its president a salary and benefits.
At Monday’s meeting, the Board thanked the committee members for their work on the budget and referred the report to its Finance Committee for further action, without commenting on specific recommendations.