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DeKalb District 428 eyes finances in 2013

DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 is hoping to balance its financial responsibilities and desire to give students a high-quality education in 2013, Superintendent Jim Briscoe said.

But he said it's hard to plan out a budget when the state is inconsistent and short with its funding.

"You're always guessing what your budget will be," Briscoe said. "They say they'll fund something, but they'll fund it at 75 percent."

The school entered the 2012-13 year with a $2.3 million deficit, a fact that stuck in the minds of district officials. In April, school board members assembled the district's finance and facilities committee to find "ways to save dollars long term for our district, and [prioritize] facility needs for the future," Briscoe said.

The committee, which includes school board members and residents, is looking at everything and anything in the district. It will also make recommendations on how to best utilize the $21 million grant the district received after the high school was constructed. District officials said they can use that money for any purpose.

Briscoe said there should be an update from the committee at their Jan. 22 meeting.

Board President Tom Matya also noted that they managed to cut $750,000 in administrative costs from the district's budget.

"There will be a continued focus on cost reductions," Matya said. "We have to continue to look at various expenses throughout all of our expenses."

The state remains a wild card, though. This year, it prorated payments to school districts at 89 percent, and cuts to state aid for transportation cost the district $300,000.

The state has an unfunded pension liability of at least $96 billion. One possible reform solution is requiring local school districts and teachers to pay more into their pension own pension funds.

"If they take an approach that's reasonable ... I think districts have the chance to plan and budget appropriately," Briscoe said.

A reasonable approach would be a contribution increase of 0.5 or 1 percent a year over a long period of time, he said. Having to contribute as much as 6 percent more in a single year could wipe out a district's budget.

The district also is looking at its assets and which it can do without. This process initially led to a land swap agreement with ShoDeen Construction in October. The district was going to trade Kiwanis Park for land the developer owned near the high school. The deal also would have stopped the district from paying interest on a $1 million impact fee credit.

Several residents spoke out against the land swap agreement. The district is now working to sell the park to the DeKalb Park District. A price has not been announced.

"Although the land swap created some debate in the community, at the end, it will continue to be green space, and it will be owned by the appropriate entity, which is the park district," Briscoe said.

Negotiations with ShoDeen will continue in conjunction with the city of DeKalb, Matya added.

This year also will be a period of transition for the school board. Three sitting board members – Michael Lord, Jessica Lyons and Mike Verbic – did not file for re-election. Five candidates – Vickie Hernan-Faivre, Marilyn Parker, Victoria Newport, George (Joe) Mitchell, and Mary Hess – will compete for those three spots.

When it comes to 2012, Briscoe also was proud of the partnerships the district made with Northern Illinois University and Kishwaukee College. By working with faculty from those schools, the district was able to retool its math curriculum, Briscoe said.

"The sequence of courses were looked at to make sure students got their third year or fourth year of math so they can be successful in college," Briscoe said.

NIU student teachers also have been partnering with DeKalb school teachers so that the students can get real world experience.

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