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District 428 looking to maximize dollars

Committee to report way District 428 can save money

Bresiess Marquez (center) finds a bus after school Thursday at Founders Elementary.
Bresiess Marquez (center) finds a bus after school Thursday at Founders Elementary.

DeKALB – A school board committee in charge of finding ways for School District 428 to save money soon will make recommendations that affect how and where DeKalb-area students go to school.

For months, a group of 20 school administrators, teachers, community leaders and teachers’ union representatives have been researching how the district can maximize its dollars and facilities while maintaining the quality of education.

“Their job was to look at everything,” said Tracy Williams, the board’s vice president and a member of the finance and facilities advisory committee. Another board member, Michael Lord, also was on the committee.

Committee members will report some of their findings and recommendations at the school board’s Jan. 22 meeting.

Williams and other members of the committee declined to comment ahead of time on what will be featured in the report, as it still was being finalized.

Some of the committee's findings will center around grade configuration and school consolidation, said Andrea Gorla, the district's assistant superintendent of business and finance. For example, one school building might house kindergarten through third-grade students, while another would be geared to fourth- through sixth-grade students.

"The committee was there to research all viable options for utilization of facilities, possible configurations of school districting, consolidating," Williams said.

The school board tasked the committee with a number of objectives in March 2012, board president Tom Matya said. But that was before the school district entered the 2012-2013 school year with a $2.3 million deficit.

Matya and other school officials previously have spoken about the financial challenges awaiting the district in 2013. State payments to the district have been late and pro-rated, forcing the district to rely on local property taxes (69 percent for the 2012-2013 school year).

Matya said the board has tried to maintain a strong fund balance while looking to trim $7 million from the budget over the next three to four years.

The district has a $21 million construction grant that it received to help build DeKalb High School. The district received the grant after construction was completed, so the money has been sitting in the district's reserves. The board did not use the money to eliminate the $2.3 million deficit, as officials said at they wanted to use it for educational purposes.

Matya, Gorla, and Williams mentioned that the committee explored different options on how the money could be used. Matya said it was possible the money could be used to increase parity among some school buildings.

One of the committee's other objectives was to examine how the district could make every school building equitable in terms of conditions and amenities. Matya said this could be difficult to accomplish, as some of the schools are considerably older than the newest ones.

Another unknown factor is the upcoming election April 9. Three members of the board – Lord, Jessica Lyons, and Mike Verbic – are not seeking re-election. Matya said he did not know if the board will want to take action before the election.

"We'll have opportunities to the public to comment on it," Matya said. "We want to be as transparent as possible."

Williams said nothing would be off-limits in the search for possible savings.

As someone who will have a vote on any recommendations from the committee, Williams said he was cognizant of his impact. Williams said he participated in the committee, but he did not research into a particular field.

"I didn't want to guide it in any one direction," Williams said. "I certainly didn't have an agenda."

Matya said he and other board members have attended different committee meetings in the past year. Although he hasn't seen the report yet, Matya praised both the report and the "capable, diverse" group that compiled it.

"In the end, we will have a good, well-thought out plan to bring to the public for their consideration and input as well," Matya said.

Williams said the committee's recommendations were well-researched.

"I wanted to be able to tell the taxpayers in this district that the appropriate process had been run and fully vetted," Williams said. "I'm confident the results we've come up with are the right results and not driven by any particular agenda or predetermined result."

If you go

The DeKalb School District 428 Board of Education will meet at 7 p.m. Jan. 22  in the board room at the Education Center, 901 S. 4th St.

The finance and facility advisory committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the board room at the Education Center, 901 S. 4th St.

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