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updated: 1/23/2013 2:34 PM

District 41: Combination of financial options needed to fix deficit

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Lake Villa Elementary District 41 will likely need a combination of solutions to help the school system climb out of a financial hole, officials told the crowd at a community forum at Polumbi Middle School.

Some 300 people attended the Tuesday night session and heard officials outline the possibility of closing a school building, creating grade level centers, cutting unfunded programs, or going to voters for a tax increase referendum.

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There were some fireworks late in the evening when a screaming match broke out between two people over the issue of raising taxes.

The forum, hosted by the Lake Villa District 41 financial committee, focused on how to erase an estimated $1.8 million annual deficit.

"None of these solutions, unto themselves, will make up this deficit," Assistant Superintendent Alex Barbour said. "We will need a combination of ideas to fix the financial problems."

However, residents expressed concerns about some of the options being considered, included converting neighborhood schools into grade level centers.

"I would hate to see that sense of community taken away," parent Angel Harold said Tuesday.

Concerns also were voiced about rising taxes should a referendum be approved, and over deciding which school would be shuttered should officials elect to close a building.

This is the third community forum regarding District 41's finances. Officials have outlined general options, but have provided no specific details.

Superintendent John Van Pelt said declining enrollment and a lack of state funding have led to the district's funding problems, and the financial committee was created to find the best solution.

Van Pelt said the district has about two years before any plan would be put into effect, but officials explained that, at some point, a plan would need to be acted on to keep the district solvent.

At issue is less state aid because of the combination of the district's falling enrollment and the state's ongoing financial troubles, officials said.

In the 2012-13 school year, District 41 enrollment fell by 100 students to 2,997, Barbour said. The district expects the trend will continue, resulting in an 800-student decline by the 2022-23 school year.

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

While some forum attendees seemed to focus on administrator salaries as the cause of the problems, others said they were looking for solutions.

"I think it's time we looked at new revenue generating ideas," said Michelle Monaco. "We should be aggressively seeking grants and start looking for ways to generate revenue."

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