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Closure wasn’t issue in talks

But superintendent says teachers were ‘aware’ of Lincoln possibility

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

DIXON – Publicly, talks about closing Lincoln Elementary School weren’t known until Oct. 16, but the idea had been discussed within the school district for more than a year.

Superintendent Michael Juenger asked Director of Buildings and Grounds Kevin Schultz to look into the feasibility of closing a school, and the decision to propose the closure of Lincoln Elementary, in an effort to reduce the district’s budget deficit, was “cemented” after all schools were visited earlier this year, Juenger said.

During a school board meeting Feb. 20, Dixon Education Association President Sandra Sodergren-Baar asked Juenger, during the public comments portion of the meeting, whether rumors of Lincoln’s potential closing were true.

Juenger said they weren’t and that “we’ve had no talks about that.”

On Monday, he said he was referring to rumors about Lincoln closing for this current academic year, and he said the board had not had formal talks about it closing in the future.

“I had asked him that publicly because I had really wanted to know,” Sodergren-Baar said Monday. “I had heard that was a possibility.”

That question came just 8 days before the start of the teachers union strike, which lasted 9 days before it ended March 13.

Among the results of the strike is a contract with nearly $290,000 in raises for next school year: about $246,000 for certified staff and $40,000 for support staff, Juenger said.

The raises for certified staff includes teachers and school district staff members who have a teaching certificate, Juenger said. But he said the total amount could change if some teachers move to a new pay grade, by receiving a master’s degree, for example.

In the new contract, teachers will pay $60 a month more for insurance, Juenger said, adding that there hadn’t been an increase in 2 years.

Closing Lincoln and reconfiguring the grade levels in different buildings would save at least $246,000 a year in the education fund and $70,000 in the operations and maintenance fund, according to Juenger’s proposal.

The proposal comes 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.

The education fund includes teacher salaries and educational programs, among other things.

Not a bargaining chip

Both Juenger and Sodergren-Baar said the possibility of closing Lincoln was never discussed during contract negotiations.

However, Juenger said teachers, because they had heard the rumors and Sodergren-Baar had asked, were at least somewhat aware that it could happen.

“Were they aware of that possibility? I would have to say, yes,” he said. “Was it discussed during negotiations? No. To say it was something known among the negotiation team, I would have to say yes.”

Because Juenger denied the rumors in February, Sodergren-Baar said the possibility of Lincoln closing wasn’t something on the minds of the negotiators.

“I don’t think it would have changed our strategy, but it certainly would have enhanced it,” she said.

When the proposal to close Lincoln school was made public last month, Sodergren-Baar said, she wasn’t shocked.

“I was disheartened because I think that, you know, we want to do what’s best for kids,” she said. “I don’t know that this isn’t best for kids. ... I don’t know if I was surprised, given the climate of the state [with reduced education funding].”

While the salary increases next year add to the district’s budget problem, Juenger points to the reduced level of funding from the state and federal governments as the major contributor to having to discuss closing Lincoln.

The Dixon school board will meet Nov. 20 at Lincoln Elementary for its regularly scheduled meeting. Closing Lincoln won’t be on the meeting’s agenda as an action item, Juenger said after a public meeting last week.

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