Board: School Closures Necessary

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BELVIDERE (WIFR) -- Many parents in the Belvidere School District say they feel powerless in preventing school closures next year, despite months of protesting. That is because at last night's meeting, board members said schools need to close.

Without school closures, board members say they'll face a multi-million dollar deficit. On the other hand, parents say they're frustrated that school board members aren't on board with the administration's recommendation to wait a year before closing schools. Community members begged the district to slow down and wait before closing buildings. The board president says he understands because his kids were forced to switch schools years ago, but, he says if something isn't done, students will suffer.

"Everything we have to do is stuff that we as a board don't want to do. We're trying to keep the kids first and foremost but we don't want to create a situation where we've just kicked the can down the road and the kids are going to pay a heavy price,” said School Board President, Richard Van Evera.

Administrators will likely come back with an updated recommendation at their March 4th meeting. Van Evera says he doesn't want to close schools and hopes there can be more savings found in other areas.

UPDATE: BELVIDERE (WIFR) -- Administrators came to tonight's board meeting with their own recommendation. They considered weeks of parent input, begging them not to close schools, so the recommendation does not include immediate school closures. The board however, thinks schools should close immediately and parents aren't too happy.

"What's the game? I don't get it. Couldn't we have been honest back in October or November that we wanted two elementary (schools) to close, why go through all this?," said parent and Kishwaukee PTO president Holly Houk as she addressed the Belvidere School Board.

Parents like Houk say they don't understand why they've been offering their input for months, which administrators considered, only to have the board go against the district's recommendation.

But board members say schools need to close next year in order to be financially stable. With lower enrollment and less money from the state, they say the deficit will only get worse.

Under the current administrative recommendation, only Belvidere South Middle School would close in the 2014-2015 school year, that's something community members aren't happy with either.

"It would hurt our students because it's easier for middle school teachers to keep track of their students; they're in groups or they're in teams," said Belvidere Education Association president Mark Luthin.

But Dist. 100 Superintendent Michael Houselog said, "We also have a large number of people who haven't come out publicly and have said things like 'I think we need to close schools right away,' well we're still listening and that's what we've done to this point and that's what we'll continue to do."

If schools do close in the 2013-2014 school year, Perry and Kishwaukee elementary schools would likely be cut. Board members say they understand the frustration because they have or had kids in the district, but they say it would be irresponsible not to make these cuts.

Community members will be able to offer more input on this recommendation at a special board meeting on March 4th. It will be held at Belvidere North High School at 6 p.m. Administrators could also come back that night with an updated recommendation. The board will make its final decision on March 18th.

Also tonight, parents presented about 1,900 petitions to the school board, signatures that show community support against immediate school closures.

BELVIDERE (WIFR) -- In about 24 hours the Belvidere School District will present its plan to help cut a projected $28 million budget deficit, over the next five years. The district has taken parent suggestions into consideration, but both sides will still have to give.

Parents and community members have been protesting for months, begging the Belvidere School Board to slow down, to not close schools or make drastic cuts and the district is listening.

"I think the way the parents reacted and went to these meetings and voiced their concern, I think it was the difference in this whole process,” said Holly Houk, a parent.

Administration has released its recommendation to help cut a growing deficit and it does not include school closures, at least for next year. However, the plan would close Belvidere South Middle School for the 2014-2015 school year.

Gina Yannone has a child at south. "I don't agree with that, I think they need the two individual middle schools because they get so much great attention from the teachers and they have their teams they're working with," says Yannone.

That's why parents will still present petitions to the school board. There are more than 1,500 signatures asking administrators to slow down.

Grade re-structuring was another concern, but administrators do not plan to shift students next year either. They are proposing teacher layoffs, changing Washington’s year-round calendar to summers off, eliminating study halls and dissolving the Boone County Special Education co-op.

Those cuts and more would save the district more than $4 million next year, but it would still have to dip into reserves.

The board will present its recommendation at tomorrow night’s meeting. It will be held at Belvidere North High School at 6:00 p.m.

Theoretically, if the district makes the cuts outlined above, by the fifth year they will no longer face a deficit. However, that is if they sustain all of the cuts and if the state doesn’t cut any more money. It is still not a guarantee as the district keeps getting less money each year. On the flip side, if they get more money, the cuts won’t be as deep.

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