LADD — As word spreads about Cherry Grade School’s intention to close in two years and with Ladd’s school among the districts that could receive the students and the Cherry tax base, Ladd’s superintendent called a special meeting Wednesday evening to discuss finances with her school board.
She shared with them the projected budgets for the Ladd district for next year and through the 2015-16 school year as well as projected budgets if Ladd were to welcome Cherry district students in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
Bottom line, the district, like most in the Illinois Valley, already is in deficit spending and state funding is not likely to increase. However, if Cherry students came to the Ladd district, the budget deficits for Ladd initially would be smaller.
When the NewsTribune asked Zeko if that means basically that the outlook isn’t ideal either way and it’ll be deficit spending regardless, Zeko quipped: “Welcome to the state of Illinois.”
If students from Cherry came to Ladd and the Ladd district gained that property tax base, then Ladd’s revenues would grow.
If the Ladd district included the current Cherry district and students in 2014-15, the budget deficit would be about $257,120 by summer 2015 and would be $332,660 by summer 2016. Without the Cherry students, Ladd, which has a projected $171,182 deficit this year, would see its deficit grow to $317,321 by the end of June 2015 and $380,288, according to charts provided by Zeko.
Zeko said she had assistance from a longtime state schools financial expert in projecting the long-term budget. The preliminary numbers she presented to the board contained an assumption that Cherry would be included in the Ladd budget next school year.
Barring tax rate increases and if Cherry were not welcomed to the district, Ladd would have to dip into savings account balances to that point that it would have only $180,000 on hand by summer 2016. At that point, the district would be on the state’s “Financial Watch” list. If Cherry were welcomed in, according to Zeko, the district’s fund balances could still be about $427,324 in June 2016; the district would have a slightly better financial score from the state, but would be on “Early Warning” status.
“It would extend the point where we have no funds one more year,” board member Bernie Victor said, and then asked Zeko if that was correct.
“The bottom line is that it would help us if we were to take Cherry on,” Zeko said. “It would help us to make it to the 2015-16 school year with our current (local tax rate.)”
In recent years, due to severe funding problems and late-payment habits from the state, the one source of sure, on-time funding downstate school districts have had is the local tax revenue from property owners. Having a larger tax base moves back the possible year when the district would not have to ask voters for tax increases.
“With the way the state is, the best thing to do is to try to buy time,” Zeko said.
Some changes would need to be made in the Ladd building, only 10 years old, to accommodate students from Cherry.
The Ladd board worked to keep class sizes low when it took on Leepertown’s students during the past year. To hold class sizes in the 17- to 25-student range, if Cherry students came in, Ladd would need to add classrooms and teachers for third, fifth and sixth grades, Zeko said. She said Ladd could use three of the six teachers from Cherry to handle those extra class sections, and she talked to the school board Wednesday about three rooms currently available in the Ladd building that could be converted for classes.
She noted, for example, that the district has been buying laptop computers for students, so a large computer lab room may soon become unnecessary.
Board members asked her about neighboring districts’ chances of bringing in the students from Cherry instead. Zeko said contiguous school district Dimmick is in a Salle County and also is in the La Salle-Peru Township High School district, so it would not be ideal to have some of the grade school graduates move on to L-P and others to move on to Hall. Ladd, like Cherry, is in Bureau County and sends its public school graduates to Hall High School; Zeko indicated to the board that the state probably would look at that as a more favorable scenario.
Also, Zeko told the board she was advised that she should apply for a school construction grant soon to put Ladd in the running in case an addition eventually were needed.
Board president John Picatto asked board members and Zeko to determine if there would be any logic in utilizing any of the Cherry School facilities.
He said the newer one-story addition at Cherry has four rooms and includes a teachers lounge, and he was curious to know if that building could operate independently from the large, older, three-story Cherry School building.
Board member Paul Quinn asked why Cherry is citing a wish for a one-year transition phase for a fall 2014 move and hoping to lock in a neighboring school district by this summer. Quinn’s point was, when Ladd had a little more than two months to physically prepare for the arrival of Leepertown district students this fall, the transition went smoothly.