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District 230 will follow health guidelines first

By Dermot Connolly
Tony Serratore, president of the District 230 School Board, said that having all students receiving in-person instruction will depend on health guidelines.
Responding to a question from board member Mike Hardek during a meeting last Thursday night, Serratore said that the timetable for increasing the percentage of students on campus to 50 percent and then 100 percent will depend a lot on advice from state education and health officials.
“ Over the past few months, we have received a lot of comments. We know it is a very emotional topic,” said Serratore, going on to explain how the reopening plan was drawn up over the summer and voted on by the board.
“ Many individuals worked on that plan to make it as safe as possible for our students and staff to open in August,” said Serratore.
After concerns about staffing and a possible uptick in COVID-19 cases over Labor Day weekend, the decision was made to push reopening to this past Monday.
Carla Erdey, communications director for District 230, said earlier this month that only five of the 511 teachers in the district have taken long-term leaves because of childcare issues brought on by the pandemic.
District 230 includes Stagg High School in Palos Hills, Sandburg High School in Orland Park, and Andrew High School in Tinley Park.
The meeting was held without an audience but could be viewed live via Zoom. While no one submitted comments on the budget, numerous comments were submitted about the D230 Proud school reopening plan, which Erdey read out.
Most were critical of the plan, which allowed in-school learning to start Monday, with 25 percent of the student body on campus each day. Students in special education and English as a second language programs have mainly in-person instruction, but most others will attend in-school classes one day per week, with the rest done remotely from home. Most commenters argued that one day was not good enough and urged the board to reopen schools 100 percent.
The District 230 School Board did unanimously approve a balanced operating budget of $141.2 million for fiscal year 2021 following a hearing at the Sept. 24 meeting.
“ This will be the 18 th consecutive balanced budget going back to 2004,” said John Lavelle, assistant superintendent for business services, during the brief hearing.
He said the budget of $141,402,324 leaves a surplus of $106,721 for the year.
“ It is a pretty slim margin but it is enough,” said Lavelle.
As usual, the district is depending on taxpayers for about 85 percent of the costs.
“ But there are some new revenues included in this budget, including $895,292 we’re expecting to get from the federal CARES Act grant,” said Lavelle, referring to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed by Congress earlier this year.
Lavelle said the budget also includes about $100,000 in funds from FEMA and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency for emergency cleaning and personal protection equipment needed in schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ As for the current fiscal budget, is it a wash or are we operating at a deficit?” asked board member Patrick O’Sullivan.
Lavelle said it was “basically a wash,” because while there were unexpected costs due to the pandemic, the district also wasn’t spending as much on things like food and utilities when the schools weren’t open.
Secretary Susan Dalton asked whether contingency funds were built into the fiscal budget for the new year, and Lavelle said that $100,000 was included just in case they are needed.
“ We felt we had to build that excess in,” Lavelle said.
“ Balanced budgets are not always easy. Most school districts would love to have one,” said Serratore. “We continue to get less money on a percentage basis from the state.”
The tax levy has not been determined yet, but Serratore said the board “has never gone to the maximum” when seeking an increase.
“ We have always been very aware of the impact on our taxpayers. We’re on top of it,” he said.
Serratore emphasized at the meeting that the safety of the staff and students are a top priority.
“ Every decision that has been made has taken the health and safety of everyone in this building into consideration,” Serratore said. “We are excited and look forward to having students back in the buildings. I want to assure you that we will have an excellent teacher in every classroom, including some retired District 230 teachers.”
Serratore praised faculty and families for their “flexibility” regarding the situation. “You are all amazing.” he said.

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