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updated: 2/28/2012 5:30 PM

District 41 to eliminate 20 staff positions to address deficit

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By Abby Scalf

Lake Villa Elementary District 41 will eliminate the equivalent of 20 staff positions and cut operational expenses by $400,000 starting at the end of the 2011-12 school year to address its budget deficit.

The layoffs, which will trim $1 million from the budget, target 14 teachers, including four elementary classroom positions and one middle school math. Six other positions involve central office, maintenance, administration and teaching assistants. The cuts will be implemented in the next two years.

"We realize how important our staff is and how fortunate we are to have some of the best teachers in the area," board president Darla Vanderwall said during a school board meeting Monday. "Please know that we make these reductions with a heavy heart tonight, but they are necessary for the financial stability of this district."

Among operational expenses to be cut, Superintendent John Van Pelt said $110,000 will come from the department and building budgets, and $200,000 from operations and maintenance. The district plans to move from a third party to a group insurance, saving $75,000.

To explain the district's declining enrollment, which officials say is a main cause of the shortfall, Jerome McKibben of McKibben Demographics presented a study to the board and the Palombi School gymnasium filled with parents and staff.

Within the next four to six years, McKibben said, District 41 will see a 2 percent decrease in student enrollment before it may level off. To offset that, he said, the district would need to gain 100 to 150 households with young school-age children.

Vanderwall said decreases in enrollment and state funding are factors the board cannot control but must address. The administration reviewed reductions that will allow the district to maintain high quality education, she added.

"Be assured that at the core of all of our decisions are the individual learning needs of the students here today and those students coming in the future," she said.

Residents expressed concern about how staff changes will affect the children, such as boosting class size and minimizing special education programs in the four elementary schools and middle school.

"What happens to the child who may be at the back of the class who could probably use an extra 10 minutes with a reading teacher who is now currently unemployed?" said Lisa McMahon of Lake Villa. "And I worry so much that the elementary staff is getting cut because that is where the learning begins."

Even with these reductions, the district will have a budget deficit in the coming school year. As officials continue to review enrollment, they will study across the district and anticipate that additional reductions may be needed in the future.

"This is the first step. We are going to have to take things further," Vanderwall said. "But for right now, I believe our children's day will stay intact."

Van Pelt said the district will seek six parents and two community members to join the financial advisory committee as it continues to review the financial situation this spring.

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