District 205 officials: Additional revenue will not keep schools open
No amount of additional revenue will prevent the Rockford Board of Education from closing schools at tonight’s special school board meeting.
At least that’s the message coming from officials.
At Monday’s meeting of the Budget Review Consultant Selection Committee, Jude Makulec (Sub District-D) addressed the ex-mayor panel and solidified the board’s reason for moving to close buildings.
While Makulec did not specify which schools would closed next year, she reiterated the goal of running the district more efficiently.
“Let’s be honest about this,” Makulec said. “Thinking we won’t close any schools because somebody found some money has been an incorrect assumption. The school building closings are happening because we have too many empty seats in our schools.”
The idea of trimming the fat in the name of efficiency isn’t a new one.
Tuesday, Jan. 25, Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield said district schools are approximately 25 percent from capacity.
Some buildings are as low as 60 percent empty.
The result continues to be draining on the district, especially when state revenues are difficult to come by, health care costs are increasing, and the 2011 budget is already $41 million in the red.
Even if consultant Baker Tilly is correct that the district could receive an additional $20 million, the school board will likely not issue a permission slip to keep sparsely filled buildings open.
“District-wide, we’re only averaging roughly 75 percent capacity,” President David Kelley said Jan. 25. “We can’t meet this goal of $50 million running our buildings at an average across the district of 75 percent. We have to tighten it up.”
Tonight, the school board is slated to vote on Sheffield’s $45 million cost-cutting plan. At the past few board meetings, students, parents and supporters all but begged the board to keep schools open and find alternatives to the superintendent’s proposal.
The Education Committee has considered some of the public’s cries, however, scrapping the idea of closing schools has not been one of them.
“People aren’t going to be happy with the things we have to do, but we have to have a balanced budget or we will go over the edge,” Kelley said.
Tonight’s vote could close at least seven schools.
Stiles, Jackson, and New Milford are still on the list of elementary buildings to be sealed. Closing Auburn Freshman Campus, Dennis Early Education Center, Page Park School and Skyview School, which houses the Academic Career Education (ACE) High School is up for a vote.
The fates of West View Elementary and Haskell Elementary are still unknown. The board has, however, mentioned the buildings during talks to alter the scope of cuts.
One alternative, sparked by Jeanne Westholder (Sub District-B) Feb. 15, includes closing Summerdale Elementary, leaving programming at Haskell, and keeping West View open. That plan would result in Lewis Lemon Elementary becoming the zoned school on the west side.
Westholder has been urging the rest of the board to keep the neighborhood school plan it approved last fall in mind during the budget-cutting process.
“What we proposed and voted on in November was different,” Westholder said Feb.8. “Now, things have changed. We are dealing with a new plan. We have to know where we started from. If we are going to be closing schools, I just want to be careful how we do that.”
While little has been announced recently about the proposed sports partnership with the Rockford Park District, it, too, is expected to be mentioned tonight.
Under the terms of the proposal, the park district would manage some of the scholastic athletic program on all levels. The goal is to slash the $3 million the District 205 spends each year on sports.
If a successful partnership cannot be solidified, Sheffield said athletics would be cut.
As of this report, the proposal was being reviewed by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). If the IHSA approves the venture, District 205 teams would still be eligible to compete in state-sanctioned leagues and tournaments.
Additional cuts could follow
Sheffield’s plan is not limited to school closures and altering athletics. A secondary list of cuts include the possibility of eliminating the language immersion program, Montessori, gifted classes and various district jobs.
Secondary slashes hinge largely on whether the teachers union will agree to salary concessions.
The first level cuts are expected to come with the elimination of approximately 270 teaching and other jobs.
Because of space constraints, tonight’s school board meeting will be held in the Ellis Arts Academy Auditorium, 222 S. Central Ave.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m.
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