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A long debate to close Lincoln

Will shut doors after this school year

Published: Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 11:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 10:47 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Lincoln Elementary third-grade teacher Shana Engelkes leads a lesson Thursday morning at the Dixon school. The school board voted Wednesday night to close Lincoln at the end of this school year.
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Students in Shana Engelkes' third-grade class at Lincoln Elementary School in Dixon answer questions Thursday morning. The school board voted Wednesday night to close Lincoln at the end of this school year.

DIXON – Despite mounting financial pressures, the Dixon school board's decision to close Lincoln Elementary was not made quickly or easily.

Board members voted 4-2 during the third hour of their meeting Wednesday to close the district's oldest building. John Jacobs and Terry Shroyer voted against the closing. Kevin Sward was absent.

Josh Arduini, who voted to close the school, wanted to explore a ballot referendum to give Dixon residents the chance to vote on a tax increase to keep the school open.

But as doubts arose on whether the issue could be placed on the March ballot, and whether it would be successful, Arduini ultimately voted with Jim Schielein, Tom LeMoine and Pam Tourtillott.

In October, Superintendent Michael Juenger presented the board with a proposal to close Lincoln as a way of addressing the school district’s $1.5 million deficit in the education fund for the 2013-14 school year. That would leave a fund balance of $1.4 million.

"I don't want to do any of this, mind you," Tourtillott said. "But I would prefer to take the money from a building than from additional teachers."

The education fund pays for teachers' salaries and educational programs.

Another vote on Wednesday's agenda had an impact on Jacobs' vote against closing Lincoln.

That vote was on a request to change a contract and add work on Reagan Middle School, a project that will cost $2.4 million, which was scheduled to be addressed after the Lincoln vote.

However, Jacobs moved to delay the vote on Lincoln until he knew the outcome and could address his concerns about the contract.

He wanted to open the contract to other bids, he said, to see whether the district could get a lower price for the project. That work includes, among other elements, work on air conditioning, boilers, lighting and ceiling tiles.

"If it comes in at $1.8 million, that would keep Lincoln open for 2 more years," he said. "Why aren't we getting a second price? ... I'm not closing Lincoln and putting air conditioning in Reagan."

The work at Reagan will be paid for through a health/life and safety bond sale. That debt payment will be made each year from the district's bond and interest fund.

Jacobs suggested and wanted to explore the possibility of transferring money from the operations and maintenance fund to the education fund to help keep Lincoln open for, at least, the near future.

This presented a problem, Tourtillott said, because the deficit affecting Lincoln directly was in the education fund. Transferring money between the two funds was advised against, and there was doubt that it was possible.

Jacobs, who said he supported closing Lincoln before he saw the Reagan work on the agenda, said that despite what fund the money was in or budgeted for, it was all taxpayer dollars and each fund should feel the district's pain.

For Tourtillott and LeMoine, the two issues were separate and didn't affect how either board member had planned to vote on either issue, they said.

"I do share John [Jacobs'] concern about the cost of it," LeMoine said. "But I think the necessity of moving forward with this overwhelms that. I just don't see the connection between the two. And I think the public will understand that, because the education fund is completely different from the [operations and maintenance] fund or selling bonds."

The board voted 4-2 to approve the work on Reagan, with Jacobs and Shroyer voting against.

With that vote settled, the board returned its attention and debate to whether to close Lincoln.

Shroyer voted against closing the school, in part, he said, because he shared a concern that had been voiced by some parents – having younger students in the same building with older students.

Second- and third-grade students attending Lincoln will move to Jefferson Elementary School, while fourth- and fifth-grade students at Jefferson will be housed at Reagan Middle School, according to Juenger's October proposal.

Juenger assured the board that the district is capable of making the changes without diminishing the education or safety of any students.

Closing Lincoln is expected to save about $246,000 a year in the education fund and $70,000 a year in the operations and maintenance fund.

"I think it's unlikely we're going to raise $250,000 by any other means other than closing the building," LeMoine said. "[If Lincoln remains open], that means layoffs in staff. And that's not what's best for our kids. Keeping that building open is not what's best for the kids, in my opinion."

Closing the elementary school is part of the plan to get the district to a balanced budget by 2017. The other part of that plan may consist of staff cuts which, Juenger has said, could come from attrition and cuts to various school programs.

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