We all must step up to aid schools

Last month, we criticized the Illinois General Assembly when it adjourned its lame duck session without offering a solution to the state’s out-of-control finances.
They failed to address the chronic overspending. They failed to take any action to rein in the $96 billion pension deficit. And they failed to grasp the impact their irresponsibility was having on the state.
Those failures have now come home to roost in Vandalia.
Last Wednesday, the Vandalia Board of Education announced that cuts totaling more than $910,000 will be made to the district’s 2013-2014 budget. And most of those can be directly attributed to the state’s failure to fully fund its commitments.
More than half of those cuts will come in personnel reductions – either through retirees who won’t be replaced or through the elimination of positions. Those staffing cuts will compromise our district’s ability to deliver a quality education to our children. Already, several important classes have been dropped.
One of the most controversial cuts has come in the music department, where one of the four positions will be cut (saving $55,000). The current staffing includes two band directors (one at the high school and one at the junior high) and two chorus directors (also one at the high school and one at the junior high). The board’s plan for next year calls for three staffers, with one of them being a single band director for grades 7-12. We have fantastic teachers in those positions, and it would be a shame to lose any of them.
The balance of the cuts will affect programs. The largest in terms of dollars is the board’s decision to cut all school-funded transportation of athletes to out-of-town athletic events. That will save more than $120,000, but it has created considerable discussion about how such transportation will be safely accomplished by the students, parents or others. We share those concerns. Keeping our children safe is one of the school's highest priorities, and transporting our athletes in a number of mini-vans is not as safe as in a school bus.
One of the gratifying developments in the past week has been the mobilization of students and parents in the community. The Vandalia Sports Boosters and the Vandalia Band Boosters have taken lead roles in beginning a response to the situation. Though it’s a tall order for those groups to come up with anything close to the money needed, they’re actively engaged in seeking a solution.
When circumstances like this threaten important elements of our community, it’s good to see people react. We must defend valuable programs, and we must provide the tools to prepare our children to compete in the world.
We're betting that the people of our area come up with some creative solutions – even if our representatives in Springfield can’t seem to do their part on the state level.
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