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Parents voice concerns with plan

Some worry about mixing younger kids with older ones

Published: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Students wait for their parents Thursday afternoon after dismissal from Lincoln Elementary School in Dixon. A proposal to close the school, recommended by the administration, was presented to the board during its regular meeting Wednesday night.
Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Students leave Lincoln Elementary School at the end of the school day Thursday afternoon. Many parents on Thursday were still learning of the district's proposal to close the school, made at the previous night's board meeting.

DIXON – When Danielle Reed learned of the possibility of her fourth-grader attending Reagan Middle School with junior high schoolers, she didn't like it.

"No. No way," the mother of three said.

A proposal was made at Wednesday's school board meeting to close Lincoln Elementary School, but no action was taken. More discussion is expected in the next 2 weeks.

Before board members vote, a public meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at Reagan Middle School for people to voice concerns and ask questions.

District administrators say something needs to be done to cut spending, before district funds are depleted after next school year.

The proposed closure would shuffle around students, transferring the district's fourth- and fifth-graders at Jefferson Elementary School to the former Madison School portion of Reagan, and second- and third-graders at Lincoln to Jefferson.

Bringing the younger students into Reagan was the No. 1 concern among parents picking up their children from Lincoln on Thursday. Lincoln houses the district's second- and third-graders.

Parents, many of them hearing of the plan for the first time, worried about possible bullying and bad influences from having fourth- and fifth-graders attend with the older students at Reagan.

"I don't think my fourth-grader is mature enough to be with junior high schoolers," Reed said. "There's going to be way too many kids going there. I'd like there to be a little more separation between the older kids and the younger ones."

One parent, in disbelief, said the closure would "never happen," while others still are sour on the move from neighborhood schools to what are known as attendance centers, where all students in a certain grade go to one school.

Decline in enrollment expected

Paula Portner, mother of a Lincoln student, said the district needs to stop moving students around.

"I'm not happy," she said. "I live three blocks away, and my student only comes here for 2 years? Now the people on this side of town won't have a school, period."

Patty Starr chimed into the conversation: "My fourth-grader has to be up by 7:15 a.m. to catch the bus [to Jefferson]. It's too early."

Some parents interviewed by Sauk Valley Media questioned if the schools would become overcrowded and whether busing students around town would become too costly.

Board member Jim Schielein was concerned Wednesday about the logistics of dropping off and picking up students at Reagan with the addition of about 400 students, noting the situation already is hectic for parents.

Moving prekindergarten and early childhood programs from Reagan to Washington Elementary School is expected to make enough room there for fourth- and fifth-graders, Superintendent Michael Juenger said at Wednesday's meeting.

Projections show a 1 to 2 percent decrease in enrollment in the next 3 years, he said.

The building is equipped to handle 1,300 to 1,400 students, and the proposed move would bring attendance to 1,000 to 1,100, said Kevin Schultz, district building and grounds supervisor.

The fourth- and fifth-grade portion of the school would be self-contained in one portion of the building and have its own gym, office, and principal.

Physical education and lunch periods would be separated, meaning the only interaction fourth- and fifth-graders would have with the middle school students would be before and after school, Juenger said.

"The administration feels we can fit our enrollment comfortably in four schools," Juenger said.

'I really worry about overcrowding'

The question of busing came up Wednesday, and the administration said it still is working on those plans.

"I can't tell you now if we're going to save money or lose money," Juenger said. "What I will say is that it can be done, and we're always looking at that and ways to reduce costs there."

Some of the finer details, such as the procedure for dropping off and picking up students, still need to be worked out, Juenger said.

Closing the elementary school and reconfiguring grade levels is expected to save a minimum of $316,000 annually. The district is uncertain what it will do with the building.

The proposal is in response to a projected $1.47 million deficit in the education fund for the 2013-14 school year, leaving a fund balance of $1.44 million in the district's largest and most critical fund, responsible for teachers' salaries and educational programs.

If the district does not reduce its expenses for the 2014-15 school year, the balance in its education fund would be depleted, meaning it would be forced to set up a budget-reduction plan with the state.

With that said, closing Lincoln will not balance next year's budget, Juenger said. It is just one area the district is looking to cut expenses.

"It's really sad that it's coming down to that," said Jessica Mattson, who has two daughters in Washington. "I really worry about overcrowding."

To attend

A public meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at Reagan Middle School cafeteria, 620 Division St.

For board packets, meeting minutes, or more information, go to www.discoverdixon.org or call 815-284-7722.

By the numbers

Actual enrollments from Dixon Schools kindergarten through 12th grade from 2007-08 to 2012-13 and enrollment projections from 2013-14 to 2017-18.

2007-08: 2,859

2008-09: 2,720

2009-10: 2,593

2010-11: 2,732

2011-12: 2,663

2012-13: 2,671

2013-14: 2,649

2014-15: 2,655

2015-16: 2,657

2016-17: 2,642

2017-18: 2,628

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