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District 428 board given proposals to cut costs

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

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DeKALB – By 2015, students in DeKalb schools could attend junior high schools instead of middle schools, and a specific center for prekindergarten and early childhood learning could be created.

In a report to the DeKalb School District 428 board, the district’s finance and facilities advisory committee put forward those ideas as possible cost savers that could enhance education.

Disregarded by the committee, and thus by the board, was the idea of changing the district’s grade configuration, or attendance boundaries.

“I think the board agrees with the recommendations from the [committee] on having no [changes to] grade configurations,” said board President Tom Matya, adding that more research on switching to a junior high system and an early childhood center needed to be done.

The recommendations were neither final, nor binding. Committee chairwoman Kathy Watkins said they still are researching the recommendations.

The committee was charged by the board to find ways to save the school district money but keep the quality of education the same. The district entered the 2012-2013 school year with a $2.3 million deficit.

The committee made five recommendations to the board. It advised against changing the current grade configuration in the schools. Any configuration, Watkins said, would not enhance the quality of education nor would it save money.

“The district has experienced a number of changes in recent years,” Watkins said. “Many in the community have stated they desire a period of educational stability.”

But the middle schools could change to junior high schools. The differences between the two are how students schedule their classes.

Students in middle school are divided into teams, and are taught by the same group of teachers in a predetermined schedule. Students in junior high are able to create their own schedule. If a student does not want to take art, he doesn’t have to take art.

Watkins said they have formed a subcommittee to examine whether these changes would generate savings. Tracy Williams, the vice president of the board, said the savings would come from the teachers’ end.

The committee recommended exploring a school dedicated to 3- to 5-year-olds. Watkins said the teachers of these students would be able to collaborate and share equipment. However, how this would impact a student’s education, what building would be used, and how much it would cost still need to be fleshed out, she said.

Watkins said the center and the junior high system would be implemented sometime between the 2014 and 2015 school years if the board chooses to pursue them.

District officials have voiced concern in the past that a number of school buildings are not equal. The newer buildings have air conditioning, while some of the older ones don’t. Watkins said more research and dollar figures still need to be tallied.

“I think we’re pretty close,” Watkins said about the progress. “We had talked about creating another subcommittee to do that.”

Not mentioned in the committee’s report is how to spend a $21 million construction grant the district received originally for building the new high school. District officials want to use the money for education, not to compensate for budget deficits.

The committee warned against moving the district’s administrative offices to Huntley Middle School. Frank Roberts, senior vice president of Castle Bank and committee member, said the move would limit educational possibilities at HMS and possibly cost $1 million. And although the Education Center was tagged as being worth $1.4 million, it wouldn’t sell at that price, he said.

“There’s a material difference between appraisal and the sale price,” Roberts said.

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