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Peru Elementary School District is among several that received criticism about five years ago for building up and carrying big balances in the education fund, but superintendent Mark Cross is glad the district did. There are plenty of reasons why. The state and federal governments are providing less to districts than in years past. Yearly interest income on savings accounts is shrinking from about $230,000 to $20,000. The property-tax-reliant Peru district’s tax base is shrinking from $187 million four years ago to a projected $170 million two years from now, and the state is expected to shift more pension costs to public schools themselves. So, the district has been dipping into its balance (bank accounts) to cover shortfalls in revenue for the education fund. “Our one saving grace is we have always been conservative with our taxpayers’ money, and we have maintained pretty healthy fund balances in the event of tough times. Tough times are here, but it is much worse than anyone could have imagined, and there is simply no end in sight,” Cross wrote in a press briefing prior to Monday’s board meeting. For the third year in a row, the board is making cuts, and this time it will have an effect on the students and classrooms. Cross says cuts made by the board Monday night bring the three-year budget-cut total to $665,000 — but cost cuts through those three years have amounted to $1.3 million, considering factors such as retirements. Where the district had five sections of classes and small class sizes in all grades four years ago and five sections in half of the grades this school year, it is cutting back to four sections at seven grades this year. The district no longer will have aides other than those required for special education. Kindergarten class sizes may increase to 23 students, first grade from 18 students to 20 and most other primary grade class sizes are likely to remain around 23. Sixth- through eighth-grade classes are projected to grow slightly to the 24- to 26-student range. The board approved $262,000 in cuts last spring and on Monday approved about $205,000 in cuts, including $180,000 in the education fund alone — Cross said the board already has cut almost as much as it can in noncertified staffing such as janitorial, office staff, etc. A cut in kindergarten from five sections and teachers to four may be somewhat painless, as preregistration numbers this winter suggest enrollment may be around 90 instead of the more than 100 this year. Contracts prevent the district from laying off any of the current kindergarten teachers, so one would be reassigned to a different grade, and a non-protected teacher is being reduced. The board Monday also eliminated an eighth-grade section (and teacher), an aide and a food service position, bringing the district staffing level down to 115.5 employees from 126 three years ago. Other reductions are proposed for social worker and library clerk hours, and the district is requiring all employees to contribute at least 5 percent of their health insurance costs (a savings of just $18,600 for the district). Cross provided the following notes after the board took action following closed session: - Reduction of two teaching positions: The board adopted “a resolution authorizing notices of non-renewal to second-grade teacher Stephanie Miller, fourth-grade teacher Erin Laurence and eighth-grade teacher Alex West. The eighth-grade position will remain unfilled. One of the two elementary positions will be filled with a current kindergarten teacher, resulting in the planned loss of one kindergarten section for 2013-14 since both second and fourth grades are already at four sections. Both elementary positions will be posted internally, with one of the positions to be filled from the kindergarten team. This is a net reduction of two full-time teaching positions.” - Reduction of one teacher aide position and teacher aide hours: The board authorized a notice of non-renewal to first year Northview teacher aide Kimberly Schuetz. “Kimberly has performed very well in her role as a teacher aide this year, and she will be missed at Northview,” Cross wrote. - Reduction of one food service position and realignment of food service staff - Elimination of the on-site music teacher at Peru Catholic: “For a number of years, we have provided Phil Whaley to Peru Catholic one morning per week for band instruction. This will be eliminated, effective with the 2013-14 school term,” Cross wrote. -Resignations: The board also accepted the resignation of Parkside reading specialist Julie Peffley, effective at the conclusion of the 2012-13 school term. “This was a new position when we hired Julie four years ago, and she has brought much to Parkside’s growth in the area of reading. We wish Julie the very best,” Cross wrote. The board also is trying to reduce the local share of transportation costs by more than $24,000, as Cross suggested parents, and not a bus, provide rides for participants in athletics and activities to and from games within La Salle-Peru (such as La Salle public or Trinity or Peru Catholic schools) to save about $2,500; eliminating rides for Bright Futures preschool (saving $12,500), and Project Success (saving $9,000), not bringing Peru Catholic students to Parkside for music and using a district-owned van instead of contract drivers and big school buses for some special education obligations. How transportation cuts may affect participation in Bright Futures and Project Success remains unseen. Education Fund reserves had reached $4.9 million about five years ago but that account is falling toward $3 million. The fund was running at a $160,000 surplus in fiscal year 2009; but has had deficits of $142,306, $313,706 and $665,719 the following three years including this one. If the board did not make additional cuts in the next three years, that balance in the Education Fund would be down to about $640,000, according to Cross’s spreadsheets. “We would not want to be spending down the fund by a million dollars a year,” Cross told the board. Education Fund revenue peaked at more than $7 million in fiscal year 2011 (the 2010-11 school year) and has declined to about $6.4 million, leaving the board with decisions to make as costs had been greater than $7 million and the state had shifted many costs back to districts and taxpayers. “I don’t care how much you cut the budget, you’re not going to get expenses down to $6.4 million,” Cross told the board.
Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by:
I am impressed by Peru School's thorough explanation of their finances and plans! It seems that Mr. Cross and his staff have been frugal in years past and it is helping the district during these tough times. I wish all districts would have this much openness about their budget. Could you get other districts to explain how they have managed to lose their surplus funds and what they are actually cutting? I'm curious how LaSalle School District has managed to lose 6 million dollars in the last few years?
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