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No decision yet on closing Reagan school

PRINCETON — The future of the Reagan Middle School in Tiskilwa is still an unknown for the Princeton Elementary School District board, staff, families and residents.

After a lengthy discussion at Monday’s meeting, the PES board agreed to wait until September to get a Building Fund Reduction Plan recommendation from Superintendent Tim Smith and his administrative team on how to cut expenses in the district’s building fund, which could include closing Reagan. Those savings are needed, in part, because of decreasing transportation funding from the state and also the uncertain costs to the district from any of state’s pension reform plan.

As reported earlier in the Bureau County Republican, the possible closing of Reagan has been projected to save the district an estimated $90,000 in transportation costs, as well as other savings in custodial staff, bus fleet reduction and bus service reduction. At its May meeting, the PES board had looked to its July meeting for decision-time on the Building Fund Reduction Plan and possible closing of Reagan. The possible closing of Reagan would not affect the 2013-14 school year.

At Monday’s meeting, board member Terry O’Neil voiced his concerns about the recommendation to close Reagan coming from the school board itself, rather than from the superintendent. The board hired the superintendent to handle problems and the board should not usurp the superintendent’s position, he said.

“This (closing Reagan) is the board’s motion. I think it’s more appropriate that it be a well-researched superintendent’s motion,” O’Neil said. “This is a monumental decision. I’d like to bring in the superintendent’s team to bring us whatever objectively is a solution here, rather than for (the board) to say ‘this is our solution.’”

O’Neil said he’s not wanting to “kick the can down the road,” but to make sure any decision is very well-researched and deliberately made, with other alternatives to cost savings considered.

In her comments, board member Doris Hamilton said she needed more time before moving ahead with any decision to close Reagan, saying she feels very uniformed to make such a decision. The whole thing is moving very fast, she said.

When looking at the possible closing of Reagan, the investigation should also include how the decision would impact the PES staff and the children of the district, Hamilton said. There’s more to the decision than transportation costs. Her concerns about closing Reagan are not because she’s from Tiskilwa, but rather whether or not this is the best thing to do. If it turns out that closing Reagan would be the best thing to do, then that motion would have her vote, she said.

In making last month’s motion to put the Buildings Fund Reduction Plan on the agenda for a decision in July, board member Steve Bouslog said his goal was to keep the issue before the board. The more time the board has the needed information before it, the more time it has to discuss it. This will also give the public more time to come to the board with any concerns and input, he said.

In his comments, Smith said he and his administrative team could have the needed information collected and researched, along with financial data from the past several fiscal years, by early fall. The board then agreed to a September report date from Smith.

The Building Fund Reduction Plan report will look at a lot of things, including how all the PES school buildings are being used, previous fiscal years and also at reviewing neighborhood sites versus grade sites, the superintendent said.

“Obviously we have to make some changes,” Smith said. “How pressing is it? It’s pretty pressing.”

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