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District 196 board OKs staffing improvements from approved levy

Staffing allocation guidelines approved by the District 196 School Board Jan. 13 include improvements to classroom teacher staffing and additional mental health support for students promised as part of the operating levy referendum approved by district voters in November.

Approval of the staffing allocation guidelines is the first step in developing a budget for the 2020-21 school year. The guidelines are used to determine the number of staff to be allocated to each school based on projected enrollment for next school year.

The biggest change in the guidelines is in classroom teacher staffing, where the student-to-teacher ratio will be reduced by 2.25 at all levels. This will result in hiring additional teachers and lowering class sizes in all grades, at all schools in the district. Large class sizes and lack of funding were identified as the two biggest issues facing the district in a survey of residents conducted for the district last spring.     

“I’m just so happy to see these numbers moving in the right direction, that we will have better staffing ratios going forward,” Vice-Chairperson Joel Albright said.

The student-to-teacher ratio has not been reduced in more than a decade. In 2010, the ratio was increased by 2.0 as part of $34 million in budget cuts that were made over a three-year period due to years of receiving less-than-inflationary funding increases from the state. Last spring, the board approved $7 million in budget adjustments, including another .5 increase to the student-to-teacher ratio, as a first step in responding to a three-year budget shortfall projected at $25 million. 

In July 2019, the School Board called for an operating levy referendum question to increase local funding by approximately $19 million per year. In addition to preventing further budget cuts that would be needed without more funding, board members selected an amount that would also allow the district to: 

  • Restore staffing cuts implemented for the 2019-20 school year;
  • Make additional improvements to the student-to-teacher staffing ratio;
  • Add mental health staffing for students at every school, and 
  • Provide after-school activity bus transportation at all middle schools and high schools.

District voters approved the levy in the Nov. 5 election, with 64 percent voting yes. The district will begin receiving the levy funds this year and all improvements will be implemented beginning with the 2020-21 school year this fall.

“This will make a difference,” Chairperson Jackie Magnuson said. “It’s because of our community’s support and we can’t thank you enough.”

The approved guidelines call for additional mental health support (social worker, counselor or psychologist) of a .5 full-time equivalent (FTE) for each elementary school, 1.0 FTE for each middle school and 1.5 FTE for each high school. 

The cost to add after-school activity buses will be included in the 2020-21 preliminary budget that will be approved by the board in June.

“We are grateful that residents were willing to increase their investment in our schools to maintain and improve the quality programs that make District 196 a district of choice,” Superintendent Mary M. Kreger said following the election. “The District 196 community has always supported a strong educational program and we will continue to be good stewards of the public’s resources.”