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Decision to close school based on reality

The decision to close 76-year-old Lincoln School next year was difficult, to be sure, but it is based on financial reality. The Dixon School Board may face other tough choices in the future.

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

As the new year approaches, Dixon residents know of one resolution that their school district plans to keep: closing Lincoln Elementary School.

Last week, the Dixon School Board voted 4-2 to shut the school after the spring semester ends. The last day of student attendance is scheduled for May 28.

When classes resume in August, second- and third-graders who formerly would have attended Lincoln will go to Jefferson School instead.

Few people wanted such a drastic new year’s resolution to close the district’s oldest elementary school, but dire financial circumstances practically forced it on Dixon Public Schools.

The state of Illinois, a major funding source for public education, can’t pay its bills on time and has cut way back on money that it distributes to local schools.

In Dixon’s case, according to Superintendent Michael Juenger, the state’s funding level is nearly $2 million a year less than it was just 6 years ago. While the school district has cut spending by $400,000 compared to 6 years ago, a large hole in the budget remains.

The school district has used financial reserves, essentially its savings account, to make up the difference. For the current 2013-14 school year, a $1.5 million deficit in the education fund will be covered by reserves. But that will leave only $1.4 million in reserves for 2014-15.

By closing Lincoln School, the district should save about $246,000 in the education fund and $70,000 in the operations and maintenance fund during the 2014-15 school year. Even so, that $316,000 in savings won’t balance the budget, but it’s a start.

The closing of any school is a difficult decision. The 4-2 vote reflected that. In the final analysis, financial reality trumped emotions.

The local economy is not strong. The state’s finances are shaky. Dixon’s enrollment is expected to decline by up to 2 percent during the next 3 years.

Given those circumstances, closing Lincoln School likely won’t be the last tough choice the school board will have to make.

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