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Parents Speak Out at Forum

Concerns Over Cutting Seventh Period for OLCHS District 229

The second of two scheduled public forums was held on Aug. 23 in the auditorium of Oak Lawn Community High School, 9400 Southwest Highway.

What started as a Public Forum to discuss different ways to control the impending budget crisis at Oak Lawn Community High School District 229, quickly escalated to angry resident complaints about rising property taxes as well as complaints about teacher and administrative salaries. {{more}}

School Superintendent and Principal Michael Riordan repeated the presentation of July 19 to a group of about 30 residents.

He outlined the projected revenues for the 2012-13 school year as $29,155,538 and the projected expenditures for the 2013-14 school year as $29,655,096.

According to Riordan, if the current rate of expenses and revenue continues at this pace, the school district will face a $1 million deficit by the 2016-17 school year.

The Administration has been in discussion with the staff and the Board of Education in considering a possible Òreversion in policy.”

Riordan explained this would mean dropping the seventh period class and returning to the policy previous to the 2004-05 school year of six classes per semester.

He emphasized that the Board has taken no action yet.

That is the purpose of these public forums Ñ to explore all possibilities before taking action.

ÒHowever, at this point we are still looking at this being a likely scenario,” Riordan said.

Riordan reviewed the cost reductions in staffing as a result of attrition, elimination of teaching positions and teacher salaries reduced via mid-contract negotiations.

These contract reductions, according to Riordan, were 3 percent each of the last two years.

Additional reductions in expenses came from elimination of the Cosmetology program, reductions to after-school credit recovery programs, elimination of the Spartan Connect Program, and building and supply reductions.

The first resident to take the podium would only identify himself as ÒCraig,” refusing to give his last name. This resident began with, ÒMy property taxes have skyrocketed.”

He went on to quote the annual salary of Riordan as $221,000 and Assistant Superintendent Richard Hendricks salary as $179,269. According to Craig, this salary does not include benefits.

ÒWhat I’m saying is,” Craig continued, Òour taxes are going to go through the roof. We’ve had it with your salaries, we’ve had it with your benefits, we’ve had it with your unions.”

Lynn Craig, mother of two OLCHS students, then brought her concerns to the podium. Her questions were in regard to teacher salary increases over the past two contracts (10 years), including the contract reductions.

When asked what the increased percentage was over that period of time, Riordan and Hendricks both stated, ÒI don’t know that number off the top of my head.”

Lynn Craig then said ÒI’ve lost all confidence then that the two of you will be able to fix this problem if you don’t even know that simple number.”

Lynn Craig pledged to come back the following day to review the contract for herself, saying that the collective bargaining documents are public knowledge and she has the right to know what the salary increases have been.

ÒYou don’t have to do that,” said Riordan. ÒThe answer to all of your questions will be posted on our Web site in the coming week.”

Next, Lynn Craig asked if Hendricks and Riordan have in the last five years given raises to their staff above the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The answer from Hendricks and Riordan was Ò yes.”

ÒWell that’s fiscal irresponsibility. The CPI tells you that you are only looking at a 3 percent increase and then you go above the CPI,” said Lynn Craig. ÒYou gave yourselves raises and you allowed raises to happen, and now you’re telling me my kids have to pay for it. I think it should be illegal for you to give a raise above the CPI.”

Former school board member and parent Paul Mancillas said, ÒIt’s easy to attack salaries, pensions and other things but the bottom line is if you want a good product, you have to pay for it.

ÒThe quality of teachers at OLCHS now compared to 15 years ago is a vast improvement. If you’re worried about taxes and home prices, think about what happens when kids get a lesser education.”

Mancillas said it is OK with him if his taxes go up a little bit more. ÒEducation is costly.”

Dan Sodaro, father of a student at OLCHS and president of School Board District 122 in Oak Lawn, offered to explain the teachers contract and how the percentage of salary increases is determined.

ÒThe five-year contract was for 45 percent, which is approximately 8.5 to 9 percent a year,” Sodaro said. ÒYou renegotiated the contract for 35 percent, which now averages out to around 7 percent a year. (You should) know that in Cook County you can’t go over 5 percent. So who was advising the Board at that time?”

According to Sodaro, someone should have advised the Board that 45 percent was going to drive the school into bankruptcy.

Other concerns voiced by parents involved the cutting of the seventh period class, prohibiting their children from being able to take the courses needed to get into the colleges they want to attend.

Janet Salamone came to the forum at the request of her daughter. ÒMy daughter takes every class she possibly can. She won’t be able to take the classes she needs to get into the college she wants if you take that hour away from her.”

Salamone said she would be willing to pay if necessary for her daughter to take that extra class.

ÒIsn’t there somewhere else we can do this? All you’ve talked about is cutting the seventh period,” said Donna Carvelli. ÒWatching your presentation, it seems your mind is already made up.”

ÒThese proposals will be put before the Board,” said Riordan. ÒThe purpose of these public hearings was to explain what the proposal was and to receive feedback, which we have had plenty of tonight, as well as to leave open the possibility that there are alternatives to consider.”

Riordan said the Board will need to make a decision on the issue of the seventh period at the next regular meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

Since there is less than a month left to make the decision, parent Erik Martin stated, ÒYou can’t really explore other options if you have less than a month. So, really the only option is cutting the seventh period.”

ÒThis is a decision the Board will have to make,” replied Riordan. ÒThe administration will make a recommendation. The Board will make the decision on the direction we take.”

The full transcript from this meeting will be available on the OLCHS Web site: http://www.olchs.org.

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