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updated: 9/26/2012 4:55 PM

District 41 explains deficit, possible options during forum

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By Abby Scalf
ascalf@dailyherald.com

A deficit fueled by declining enrollment and state financial issues may force Lake Villa Elementary District 41 to consider options including changes in student activities and a referendum, officials said.

Superintendent John Van Pelt said the district does not know when or if any of options would be implemented, but added none would happen before next school year.

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"We don't see any immediate relief on the horizon. We'll have to maneuver through this and I think the district can," he told a crowd of parents and teachers Tuesday. "But it's going to involve change along the way, some of which will be challenging but what we must address. We want to keep our focus on our core program and services to our students and make sure we don't sacrifice quality of the work we do with students."

The district's financial advisory committee plans to discuss possible solutions that may include reconfiguring schools, changing special or after-school programs or seeking a referendum, he said.

Van Pelt made the comments during a community forum at Palombi Middle School to discuss the $1.8 million budget deficit District 41 faces despite making $1.5 million in cuts before the 2012-13 school year.

At issue is declining enrollment resulting in less state aid, which is aggravated by the state's financial troubles, he said.

In the 2012-13 school year, enrollment dropped by 100 students to 2,997, he said. The district expects this trend will continue in the next three to four years.

"We're talking about (over time) seeing a loss of over 600 students. That is having a very significant impact on the district's finances," Van Pelt said.

Schools are already seeing changes, he said. In 2006, all four elementary schools had four classrooms or sections of each grade. Now, Martin School is the only school to offer that. The others range from two to four classrooms per grade.

"As we reduce sections, are we able to maintain our classroom size and so far we've been able to do that pretty well," he said.

The district anticipates it will receive $4.6 million from the state, down from the expected $5.4 million. That number will likely continue falling due to declining enrollment and state financial issues.

"What makes our situation so challenging is the state has its own financial issues. I know they would love to change this but we're not hopeful that in the immediate future they are in a position to do that," Van Pelt said.

Doreen Linderman, a senior financial adviser with PMA Financial Network, said data shows the district's deficit continuing to grow as revenue increases by 2.5 percent but expenditures increase by 3.5 percent. Projecting a scenario with no salary increases and benefit costs that cannot be controlled would still contribute to the deficit, she said.

Parents shared their concerns and said what matters is not only students' test scores but their experience. They fear students' education may already be negatively affected by declining programs such as music and art and larger class sizes at some schools.

The board will host a presentation on Illinois school finance on Oct. 24 at Palombi. Another community forum, where the financial advisory committee's work will be shared, will take place in January. Tuesday night's forum also is available to be viewed on the district's website, www.district41.org.

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