A potential $2.6 million deficit by the end of 2011-12 school year presents challenges for Big Hollow Elementary District 38, candidates for the school board agree.
Four candidates are running for three, 4-year terms in the Ingleside-based district. They include three incumbents: operations planner Douglas Pedersen; Vivian Kueter, an assistant principal in Rockford District 205; and, Kenneth Frank, who did not respond to Daily Herald requests for information. Rounding out the April 5 ballot is Kristina Lancaster, a homemaker, freelance consultant and attorney.
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A 2-year unexpired term on the board is also up for election. Firefighter/paramedic Jim DeVito, who served from 2004 to 2008 and was appointed to the board in November, is running unopposed.
The following comments come from questionnaires and interviews with the candidates.
Pedersen said reducing the budget deficit in the next five years, without affecting students, is his top priority. Bringing special education programs back in house could save as much as $472,000, he said. He also supports a reduction in the number of buses as a way to save up to $1 million. Restructuring bonds, eliminating the contracted cleaning service and "limited" personnel reductions could also be considered to save money.
Pedersen also said he would support a working cash bond or a tax rate increase referendum if the board chooses to go in that direction.
Kueter listed "budget issues" as the top priority. She said she would support cuts and/or reductions in all areas of the budget including staffing, busing and contracted services, and noted it is the board's responsibility to balance the budget.
Lancaster's top priorities were to increase educational opportunities, such as gifted programming, foreign language in the middle school and more emphasis on arts followed by greater fiscal responsibility.
She said she has supported tax increases in the past, but only if accompanied by a "show of fiscal responsibility" by district leaders. That would include cutting the operating budget with the least impact on students, she said.
Programs such as busing should be considered before a reduction in teachers or elimination of art and music, she said, and all sources of revenue, such as grants need to be investigated.
As for employee concessions, Kueter said the board is committed to "doing what is best for students and being fiscally responsible." The teachers' contract does not expire until the end of the 2012-13 school year. Kueter said that is not a consideration at this point.
Pedersen said the board is "fiscally accountable to the district," but noted it has a verbal agreement not to discuss specific issues in public.
He noted that "all items within the contract" are open for consideration during negotiation. The board needs to be fair but accountable, he added.
Lancaster said pay and benefits can be increased or frozen depending on district needs at the time of the talks.