PRINCETON — It was a grim Princeton Elementary School Board and a solemn Superintendent Tim Smith who made the tough decisions Monday night — decisions that many school boards across the state are making, thanks to empty promises and diminished funding from the state of Illinois, a declining equalized assessed valuation and a host of other reasons that directly and indirectly affect school funding.
The news was no surprise. The PES Board has consistently discussed the financial state of the district, as well as the unknown future of the state's input into the budget, pension reform, health care issues and more. While Smith said the state of Illinois does not owe PES any money at this time, he was quick to remind those in attendance (board members and administrators) the number of dollars the state contributes has diminished greatly.
"We are paid off (from the state); that's the good news," Smith said. "But It's still less than we received in the past. In fact, the state has diminished every line in the state's budget."
With those dismal and dwindling dollars hanging over the district's head, the board proceeded to discuss the impending cuts that need to be made to keep the district afloat.
Downsizing the district's buildings
"We are looking to downsize the number of buildings in order to get us back in the black in the building fund," Smith said.
The district has five buildings — Douglas, Jefferson, Lincoln and Logan, all in Princeton, and Reagan in Tiskilwa.
While Smith said the Reagan building "is one of the district's nicer buildings," it also has the biggest financial impact on transportation. It requires seven busses to shuttle students to and from Reagan every day — a potential $75,000 to $90,000 savings in the transportation fund if Reagan was closed. Other potential savings could be realized in custodial staff, bus fleet reductions, bus service reductions and more.
"It's a monumental decision to close a building," said board member Steve Bouslog, shaking his head.
Board member Terry O'Neill wondered if the district would still subscribe to grade siting, if it closed Reagan, and O'Neill and board member Mark Frank wanted information about the cost of "mothballing" the school.
Smith said those details still needed to be worked out, and he would prepare an estimate of what it would take to keep the school running (heat, water, lawn service, electric, etc.) if students were not actually in attendance at the building. The board did not talk about where the fourth- and fifth-graders who attend Reagan would be relocated or how the remaining four buildings would be restructured to accommodate the entire student body.
If the board does choose to close Reagan, Smith recommended monitoring the change for a year before the district decided to pursue selling the building.
While the board did not make a decision on Monday to close Reagan Middle School for the 2014-15 school year, it did table that decision to its July 15 meeting, set for 7 p.m. in the library at Logan Junior High School.
"We're hoping by then to have a firm decision," Smith said.
Cutting staff at PES
Regarding PES' education fund, the board, in hopes of capturing more savings, approved a three-year plan, beginning with the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal school year.
• 2013-14: Reduce certified staff by 3.5 people; reduce non-certified classroom aides by 4 (minimum); a BMP administrative assessment reduction; and software student management reduction, for a potential savings of about $384,400.
• 2014-15: Reduce certified staff through attrition (retirement) by 7 people (not replace those teachers); increase class sizes and sections; end the delivery of applications courses in the junior high, for a potential savings of approximately $563,500.
• 2015-16: Reduce certified staff through attrition by 2 people, for a potential savings of $238,500.
"Our program is changing, but it's not for the better," Smith said, quickly adding the district's teachers are the ones who continue to make it work as they offer the PES students a sound education.
Smith called the three-year plan "extremely doable," adding it is still "conservative. We are going to be able to do this. I was hoping we could do more (to save money)," however, Smith reminded the board there are still many "unknowns" for the future like pension reform, health care, etc.
The board unanimously accepted the three-year staff/program cuts. Board member Doris Hamilton was absent.
The next PES Board meeting is set for 7 p.m. June 24 in the Logan Junior High School library.
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