Dunlap students and community members came prepared to fight for programs rumored to be on the chopping block at a virtual board meeting Wednesday evening.
Their concerns were quickly clouded in confusion, however, after board member Mike Wisdom said no such cuts were going to be made.
“The board asked for information from the administration on what it would take to reach certain levels of efficiencies, and we got that information,” Wisdom said. “No one on this board has proposed, suggested, or...is entertaining making $5 million cuts in this budget.”
Despite Wisdom’s statement, the 28 people who were slated to speak still made their cases for saving programs, including arts, counseling, and extracurriculars.
In response, board president Abby Humbles sought to assure Dunlap residents that no decision would be made without considering the consequences.
“These are important decisions,” Humbles said. “Two or three months ago, I said I wanted us to avoid a knee-jerk reaction. We are impacting students, staff, and teachers, and I just want to make sure that we have firm numbers because we don’t want to make decisions without certainty.”
Given the significant deficit Dunlap is facing, residents and the board were in agreement that it is crucial for a diverse group of parents, teachers, and administrators be involved when determining how the district plans for the future.
Lauren Hanson, a Dunlap alumna and current high school Foreign Language Department chair, said this is not the first budget deficit she has had to deal with in District 323.
“I was a new teacher in 2013, the last time there was a budget deficit and staff cuts were being discussed. I remember being terrified that I was going to lose the job I love and the students I cared so much about,” Hanson said. “I’d ask that, while the board uses their reserves over the next few years to cover the deficit, they take the time to develop a sustainable, long-term financial plan with the input of staff and community members that will ensure we don’t find ourselves in this position again in another seven years.”
District 323 Superintendent Dr. Scott Dearman remarked the district’s current strategic plan expires at the end of 2020, and public input will be crucial to its reworking.
“[Strategic planning] involves a large number of meetings with a large group of constituents,” Dearman said. “The (deficit) next year is projected to be even more than what it will be this year...so that strategic plan needs to be redone anyway and (public input) will be an integral part of that conversation.”
With sights set on 2022, board members set out to ensure the community they are taking time to make sure budget projections are as accurate as possible.
It is these numbers, Wisdom said, that will inform the board as members progress in their discussions.
“We’re dealing with people’s lives,” Wisdom said. “We just heard a whole bunch of people talk about how crucial these cuts would be to their lives. We can’t do this stuff in a vacuum.”
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