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East Aurora finances, programs make the grade

Annette JohnsEast AurorSchool District 131 Board Member

Annette Johnson, East Aurora School District 131 Board Member

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Updated: March 27, 2013 6:03AM

Lately there has been much criticism of the East Aurora School District in The Beacon News. As president of the East Aurora School Board, I feel it is my responsibility to set the record straight.

Today East Aurora boasts an A+ rating, the highest financial recognition from the State of Illinois. While the state is cutting budgets and school districts are cutting programs and staff, District 131 is making positive progress.

We hired 200-plus teachers over the past two years. Our teachers have a contract that guarantees their jobs with no pay cuts. For the students, we have added and restored many programs including music, art, sports, after school and summer school. We’ve added new technology, a new Child Service Center and our crown jewel, the first virtual STEM Magnet Academy in the area.

We made all these improvements while holding the line on the 2013 property tax levy and we hope to reduce taxes in future years. That is of critical importance to our residents who bear the burden of paying the taxes.

While the district is currently in great financial shape and is on the road to improving our academic outcomes, there have been some struggles along the way.

Admittedly, the district’s finances had been in disarray for many years and needed serious cleanup. We made significant improvements in our financial processes while being transparent in our actions.

Recently, we tackled health insurance costs changing provider, rates and coverage, saving millions of dollars. We know these changes upset some retired teachers whose rates had remained unchanged for years. They have expressed in no uncertain terms that they would like to go back to their previous generous rates and coverage. But in today’s economy it’s unrealistic to expect such lucrative benefits. As in other school districts, retirees may be best served by the Teachers Retirement System.

Insurance cost is not the only area of significant improvement. Our maintenance department has been criticized for unnecessary expenditures and trips to hardware stores. Credit card misuse was exposed as wasteful spending.

Unfortunately, these practices existed for many years. After investigation, it was found that while no fraud had occurred, there were serious cases of sloppy record keeping. These processes have been repaired to prevent future offences.

The board has been transparent in reporting all district financial issues. We have never shied away from making hard choices, for example, the controversy concerning football coach Becker. His expectations of a position to be created for him were not met due to lack of state funding. We understand his disappointment, but when funding gets cut, it’s fiscally irresponsible to create an unfunded or unneeded position. This may not be a popular decision, but it is fiscally responsible. Does this sound like a district in financial turmoil? Not to me. While other school districts face layoffs, program cuts, no budget to pay salaries, D131 forecasts tax savings for residents, no layoffs, guaranteed teacher contracts, highest financial rating, new innovative STEM Academy.

And speaking of the Magnet Academy, the STEM school will use virtual technology and focus on education and skills in high demand in today’s job markets. In this program, every child will have a computer not only for use in school, but to take home with them. Thanks to the Dunham Fund who had the foresight to understand the positive impact this will have on the students and their families.

The board is looking to the future with innovative ideas to help all students excel. It is the board’s vision to develop a plan that every student will have a computer to use in school and home for homework, etc. We have set a five-year goal and hope to achieve funding through a series of grants and strict fiscal management.

I am proud of the work we have done for the children of District 131. I believe we have served the residents and taxpayers well with our solid fiscal management.

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