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D-424 cuts cause stir among G-K residents

GENOA – Genoa-Kingston District 424 parent Lynn Ray is concerned about the district’s decision last week to cut 14 teachers, dozens of support staff and the freshman sports program.

The cuts are expected to save more than $600,000 for the 2013-14 school year, which had a $1 million projected deficit before the cuts. But, in an era of state funding cuts, they leave Ray wondering what’s next.

“My main problem is where is it going to end with these cuts?” said Ray, a parent of a Genoa Elementary School fourth-grader and a Genoa-Kingston Middle School seventh-grader. “I think we need to get together and decide we’re not going to take this anymore.” she said.

State officials recently announced they likely will pay only 80 percent of its $6,119-per-pupil general funding next school year. Their announcement comes after years of deficit spending in District 424’s education fund, district leaders declining to replace teachers as they leave and a 7 percent drop in District 424 enrollment last school year.

The number of full-time certified staff dwindled from 160 in June 2008 to 139 in June 2012, as enrollment dropped from 2,035 to 1,872 in the same period. Meanwhile, the district’s education fund reserves – the amount of money in savings at the end of the school year – dropped from $8.5 million in June 2008 to a projected $6.4 million in June 2013.

District 424 Superintendent Joe Burgess said the district has been financially struggling for the past five years or so.

“This sounds like a lot of money, but we’re still only cutting the deficit from ½ to 2/3,” he said, pointing to the expected $600,000 savings from the cuts.

Cost-cutting measures have been implemented consistently in recent years.

“I think if anybody’s been regularly attending our board meetings for the last four to five years, they would know that we talk about this all the time,” Burgess said.

Julie Sorensen, a visual arts teacher at Genoa-Kingston Middle School for the past 18 years, is among the teachers whose positions will be eliminated at the end of this school year.

Sorensen said the biggest concern for many teachers is that students will be without an art and music program in the middle school, which is an important time for them to experience these programs.

“We’re very concerned that they’re losing out in this vital part of learning,” she said.

District 424 board President Dale Pelley said that although art and music programs were reduced below the high school level, the board hopes to bring them back to full strength in the future.

“Our parents are under the impression that because we’ve let teachers go, programs are ending. That is not our intent,” he said. “We just don’t know what form that’s going to be yet, because obviously, we’ve reduced our staff.”

Pelley said these reductions are not something the board takes lightly. Other budget-cutting measures, such as closing a school building, were considered as well, but ultimately, they decided reopening the building would cost the district more money.

But Ray said the school board needs to think outside the box when trimming its budget.

“We have to try to at least keep a standard, not just for us and our kids, but for everyone in Illinois,” she said.

Burgess said he and the board want to have as little impact on the students as possible, which is why they intend to reinstate the eliminated positions when the budget allows.

“We’re very positive about our ability to bring back things to keep the program cuts away from kids,” Burgess said. “But it’s just a process we’re going to have to go through.”

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