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updated: 2/9/2011 6:03 PM

Cuts coming in District 76

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Budget cuts will be coming for the 2011-12 school year in Diamond Lake Elementary District 76 but there is a wide gap between the administration's starting point and what an advisory group says is needed.

"Last year, we cut $400,000 out of the budget," said Superintendent Roger Prosise. "This year, the board asked for a range of between $300,000 and $500,000." However, during a review of that first draft Tuesday, the school board received some unexpected information that has caught the attention of teachers and administrators.

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"We're taking the position as an advisory board (that) it needs to be $1.5 million," said Patricia Naegele, one of the core members of a hawk-eyed parent group that has been asked for input on the pending decisions.

Cuts that deep could not be reached by incidental trims, but likely would involve substantial staff cuts.

"It has to," said Naegele, who is one of four candidates running for four seats on the board in the April election and as such is nearly certain to be seated. "You can take thousands (of dollars) here and thousands there (but) it doesn't make a dent."

The advisory committee, which also includes Brian Walker, another school board candidate as a core member, painted a dire picture of a district that could run out of reserves within two years.

"The school district will go bankrupt sooner rather than later unless serious cuts are made," said Mike Scardina, another core member.

The group was authorized by Prosise after several parents attended a Jan. 18 school board meeting. In recent weeks, the core group -- the members all have professional financial expertise -- has been poring through volumes of district documents.

At some point, a combined list of proposed cuts will be compiled in advance of a community forum on the topic scheduled for Feb. 16.

Expenditures have been exceeding revenues and the district has been dipping into reserves to bridge the gap rather than operating a balanced budget, the group says.

Prosise noted the district ran a balanced budget for many years and accumulated a surplus well in excess of the state's suggested reserve level of 25 percent of expenses, which amount to about $16 million in District 76.

"It got to 40 percent," he said. "The board changed the goal of having a balanced budget to having a 25 percent fund balance."

That fund balance or reserve, was $6.8 million in 2006-07 and is projected at $3.7 million (24 percent) at the end of the current school year.

"I don't think it's nearly as dire but we do realize there will have to be some things done," board president Keith Loeffler said.

"It's an unfortunate situation. No matter what we do, somebody is going to be mad at us," Loeffler added. "But at the end of the day, we have to work together and come up with a conclusion."

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