District 200 Board President Rosemary Swanson on Thursday addressed the district's finances, pension reform, improvements to education and capital improvement plans at the annual "State of the Community" forum at the Wheaton Community Center.
Recognition: The College Board recently recognized District 200, one of 539 districts in 44 of 50 states in the U.S. and six Canadian provinces, to make its annual AP District Honor Roll.
The honor roll recognizes districts that have increased the number of students who take AP tests without lowering scores across the district. Swanson said District 200 has increased the number of students taking AP tests from 892 to 976 students, taking 1,920 tests. About 87 percent—1,674—of the test results were a 3 or higher, she said.
Improvements, changes: Swanson said the district is making improvements at all school levels. In the high schools, teachers this year implemented professional learning communities (PLCs) to meet to discuss students' progress about twice a month.
READ: Late Starts in Wheaton Schools Give Teachers Time to Focus on Learning
Middle schools have added new electives geared toward teaching 21st century skills, including digital literacy, Project Lead the Way, speech (at the students' requests), entrepreneurship, visual arts and media.
Common core requirements for elementary math and English will be implemented statewide in 2013 and 2014, Swanson said. The District 200 board has approved the new math standards and books to implement the new standards this year, and is in the process of determining the English standards to implement in 2014.
"From my experience on the board, we're at one of the most stable points as it (ever) has been," Swanson said.
She said the board has passed a fund balance policy, requiring the district to maintain a 25 to 40 percent fund balance. The district is currently working its way up from a 27 percent fund balance.
Budget: The district's total budget is $172 million, with a $150 million operating budget. The education fund represents about $126 million, including about $100 million for salaries.
Swanson said the district refunded some of its bonds using the proceeds from the Hubble sale, resulting in tax savings for residents. A resident in a $300,000 home, she said, will save about $221 over the next 10 years.
READ: District 200 Creates Escrow Fund for Hubble Sale Proceeds
Teacher contracts: The district negotiated to eliminate a six percent end-of-career bump in its teacher contracts. Retirees will instead receive a post-employment payment based on the number of years a teacher worked in the district that has no effect on pensions.
The approved three-year contracts, she added, will allow for some partial step and base increases in the first couple of years, working toward a third year tied to the consumer price index (CPI).
"That's very advantageous for us... because what we get in terms of revenue is very tied to CPI," she said. "That will generally allow for increase(s) that could be between one percent and 3.4 percent."
READ: District 200 Board Approves 3-Year Teacher Contract
In the past three years, District 200 has reduced its energy consumption by 26 percent, Swanson said, which could translate to 19,548 in Co2 emissions, 3,509 autos off the highway or 499,994 seedlings planted and grown in 10 years.
"We're still in a state of limbo on this."
The district's biggest concern is having a voice at the table regarding the structure of a cost shift that requires the district to cover employee pensions, Swanson said. She said if the change was gradual, District 200 could probably handle it. The board will hear more information on the district's five-year budget projections and pension obligations at the Jan. 23 board meeting.
Swanson addressed the board's recent decision to put a referendum question on the April ballot, asking for taxpayer support in bonding $17.6 million to rebuild Jefferson Early Childhood Center.
The program-driven design is a 59,000-square-foot building with 20 classrooms. If the referendum passes, the school would be ready in 2015. If it does not pass, the district can go to voters again in 2014, Swanson said.
The impact on taxpayers would be about $19 to $51 for people in $200,000 to $500,000 homes over the next 10 years.
READ: District 200 Passes Jefferson Referendum