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Kindergartner Jesus Melchi Cruz looks over the playground Thursday from the top of a rope tower during recess at Founders Elementary School in DeKalb.
Kindergartner Jesus Melchi Cruz looks over the playground Thursday from the top of a rope tower during recess at Founders Elementary School in DeKalb.

DeKALB – If it was possible, DeKalb District 428 officials would upgrade all 10 school buildings so that they were on par with each other.

But that isn’t possible, said Andrea Gorla, assistant superintendent of business and finance at District 428.

“We need to review our projection model,” Gorla said. “As we’re all working on the subcommittees, we understand the financial picture and outlook for the school district.”

The school board has charged its finance and facilities advisory committee – a group of school officials, teachers and community leaders – with devising different ways the district can save money. The school district entered the 2012-2013 school year with a $2.3 million deficit, and the situation is not projected to improve.

Part of the committee’s mission is to examine the amenities of the school buildings themselves.

“Some of the buildings have more technology than others,” said Superintendent James Briscoe, highlighting one of the disparities that exist between newer schools such as Cortland and Brooks, and older ones such as Littlejohn and Jefferson.

Gorla said it is ideal for each building to have a designated art room, computer lab, library and music room. However, student enrollment can fluctuate year-to-year, and an art room one year might become a classroom in another.

“If there are shifts that happens, sometimes your best plans don’t come to fruition,” Gorla said. “Because if you need an additional classroom for third or fourth grade, you need to adopt those changes at the last minute.”

Students do not have art class everyday, and schools without a permanent art room use “art on a cart,” – art supplies that transported from classroom to classroom. The committee – and eventually, the school board – will have to weigh priorities, such as determining whether an art room is more or less important than a computer lab.

“Those are things we still need to flesh out,” Gorla said.

Another priority is a secured entryway – an entrance that directs all visitors to the main office, where they have to sign in before being allowed to enter the rest of the school.

“We’ve been working on trying to get some of the ones that were less costly,” Gorla said. “Some meant putting an extra set of doors...Some buildings need a complete reconfiguration of their entryways.”

Those that would require additional construction are being added to a list of projects the committee will consider, Gorla said. The committee will have to prioritize the different projects, factoring in cost, educational and financial benefits, and security improvements.

“Those numbers will be provided and priorities will be provided to weight those differences,” Gorla said, adding that any project would have to be approved by the school board.

Another disparity between the elementary schools are classroom doors. Significant parts of Tyler and Jefferson schools have no doors at all, which can be an issue during security lockdowns.

“Above and beyond anything, when we prioritize, we prioritize the safety-security pieces,” Gorla said. “Although each building has protocol for safety, it would be nice to for the protocol to have doors.”

In January, the committee suggested switching from a middle school to junior high model, and creating a specific center for prekindergarten and early childhood learning. Gorla said amenities like new playgrounds would be considered if the board wanted to purse the early childhood center.

Factoring into the discussion is a $21 million construction grant that the district received after DeKalb High School was built. District officials have held off on spending the money, hoping to use it for things other than absorbing the district’s deficits.

Gorla said deadlines for the committee’s reports on the different facility priorities will be established in March. She added it’s too late to bid out construction for the upcoming school year, so any changes the board adopts will pay out in the 2014-2015 school year or later.

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