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PES, Reagan and the future

PRINCETON — Princeton Elementary School Superintendent Tim Smith is asking for more time to get things in place before making a final recommendation about what to do with the district’s school buildings next fall.

At Monday’s meeting of the PES Board, Smith said the goal of the administration team is to continue to focus on providing the best education possible for all students. The district needs a plan that creates the least amount of change, especially for the students, while still addressing the need to decrease costs in the transportation and building funds, he said.

“This is an emotional issue, an important issue, and I take it very seriously,” Smith said. “We have a number of communities that make up our school community, and every piece of that community is important to us. We are trying to do our best to understand how to use our buildings as best we can in order to offset some of our deficits.”

In presenting his administrative team’s recommendation, Smith reviewed the financial issues that led to the building discussion, including the possible closing of Reagan Middle School in Tiskilwa. He then made building reassignment recommendations, excluding a specific recommendation for Reagan, for the board’s consideration.

Smith said the administrative team has developed a recommendation to reassign the grades as follows: Douglas would house the Bright Beginnings/Early Beginnings program and kindergarten; Jefferson would have first and second grades; Lincoln would house the third and fourth grades; and Logan Junior High would have the fifth through eighth grades, with the fifth-graders staying in self-contained classrooms located primarily in Logan West.

As far as the Reagan building, the administrative team is looking at multiple potential options for that building, Smith said. However, the Reagan options do need to remain semi-confidential for now because of the entities involved, he added.

“I believe over the next two to three months, as we gain information, that we can use potentially all of our buildings and return our building fund to the condition where we actually have a surplus fund,” Smith said.

In looking at the positive outcomes of the administrative team’s recommendation to reassign grades to certain buildings, Smith said students will still attend with all their grade level peers regardless of where they live. The pre-kindergarten through third-grade students will not change buildings at all next year, while the fourth- and fifth-grade students will transition together for Logan Junior High School. Seven shuttle buses to and from Tiskilwa will be eliminated, and all of the existing technology at Reagan can be relocated to the other buildings. By reassigning students, only Lincoln and Logan buildings will be needed for PARCC testing, which will require some technology upgrades to just those two buildings.

Also, with the proposed reassignments, there would be the possibility of relocating the Bright Beginnings/Early Beginnings program to Reagan, Smith said. If that scenario would happen, the district office could be reduced to an existing building, either Douglas or Reagan. The potential use of Reagan for other programming will likely result in offsetting the expenditure side of the building fund in a range from $30,000 to $115,000, he said.

Looking at the potential cost savings to the district, Smith said the transportation fund would be reduced by a minimum of $60,000. The building fund would be reduced by at least $50,000 without the repurposing of Reagan Middle School. There could also be a reduction in the education fund of about $563,474 during the 2014-15 school year if the district is able to reduce staff through attrition, or teacher retirements, due to grade siting. Collectively, the district could see an estimated savings of $673,474 in the first year, he said.

Following Smith’s presentation, board President Judd Lusher thanked Smith and the administrative team for its hours of work on the presentation. The board then unanimously approved Smith’s request to give him and his administrative team more time to further explore its options.

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