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Plenty of budget challenges for Dixon School District

School board looks at options amid ‘unbelievably difficult financial times’

DIXON – Move this here, cut that there, combine duties when you can and juggle, juggle, juggle. That’s the way a school district budget gets balanced during trying economic times.

The Dixon school board met for a little more than 4 hours Saturday in a special meeting in the cafeteria at Reagan Middle School, to hear the administration’s financial projections for the district for the 2014-15 school year, and how officials plan to handle what’s projected to be about a $1 million shortfall in the education fund, among other things.

It was a planning meeting only; no action was taken and hammering out all the details continues.

The budget for the next fiscal year will be passed in June.

Among the challenges mentioned Saturday:

• State aid continues to decline, and legal challenges to the state’s new pension reform plan also are causing budgeting uncertainty.

• Area property values have been decreasing about 2 percent each of the past 3 years; both local assessors predict that trend will last at least one more year.

* The 2011 statewide personal income tax increase, from 3 percent to 5 percent, may expire this year; that will mean the loss of a couple of billion dollars for schools statewide.

• Enrollment is expected to remain fairly stagnant.

• The Dixon school district is self-insured, which can make for budgeting challenges. One or two staffers with a catastrophic illnesses can send payouts careening.

Among other things, money could be or will be saved by:

• The closure of Lincoln Elementary, expected to save about $246,000 in the education fund and $70,000 in the operations and maintenance fund during the 2014-15 school year. That includes the loss of some staff positions no longer needed, such as a clerk and crossing guards.

• Cutting one administrative position when Superintendent Michael Juenger retires, which will save about $150,000.

• Other staff reductions, through retirement and attrition, and the hiring of less-experienced and lower-paid teachers. (Swapping out one experienced teacher for one less-experienced one saves about $50,000.) For example, officials estimate losing six certified staff members will save almost $230,000.

“We have come up with plans to make downsizing as comfortable as possible,” district Business Manager Dave Blackburn said.

• Cutting by about half the 80 or so students who attend the Whiteside Area Career Center in Sterling. That means one bus, instead of two, and a savings of about $48,000. Elective courses at the high school similar to WACC classes will be beefed up, while other electives with fewer than 15 students (but not AP courses) will be dropped.

• Asking Lee County Special Education to find a way to cut the district’s assessment by $85,000 to $100,000. Those discussions are underway.

• Cutting the high school activities budget by $50,000, by using more volunteers for timers, scorekeepers and supervisors for lower-level sports, and by spending less money on supplies.

More fundraising assistance from the booster club and parents will be sought, “knowing that we have to do this every year from now on,” Activities Director Karen Price noted.

• Trimming the building budgets at all facilities by 25 percent, which will save about $51,000.

Also part of the discussion Saturday was the progress being made to establish a new teacher evaluation protocol, and some of the projects and concerns that lie ahead for the building maintenance department, including beefing up security at the schools and repairing aging infrastructure.

The takeaway Saturday?

“We are in unbelievably difficult financial times, but we still are going to educate our children,” Juenger said, several times praising the teachers’ union for its willingness to cooperate and help come up with solutions to the shortfalls.

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