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posted: 5/16/2013 10:03 PM

Itasca parents still trying to save school programs

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It appears likely Itasca Elementary District 10 will begin classes next fall with fewer middle school programs.

Nevertheless, parents in the district still hope to convince the school board to reverse a decision to eliminate seventh-grade Spanish, family and consumer science, and a media center director position at F.E. Peacock Middle School.

"We feel pretty defeated, but there's always hope," parent Linda Wellander said Thursday.

The school board last month approved a variety of budget reductions after voters rejected a property tax increase to help cover the district's operating costs.

Since that time, the board has reinstated every teacher and many of the programs. But the scheduled reductions at the middle school continue to be part of the plan to address a projected $423,000 shortfall in next year's budget.

Parents say no programs should be eliminated because they raised about $60,000 in donations for the district. The Itasca Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization donated an additional $11,400.

"The community as a whole has made it very apparent to the board what they desire," Wellander said. "It's to reinstate all the programs."

But Kory Atkinson, the district's director of operations, said cutting the three programs now will allow the district to take advantage of normal attrition on its staff. The teachers in the eliminated programs would fill vacancies created by other teachers retiring.

"If we hire new teachers and then decide we really couldn't afford them, you essentially lay those teachers off," Atkinson said.

Board member Daniel Kolar has said he would like to avoid a situation where the district is again letting teachers go and trying to find money to bring them back.

Still, Kolar on Thursday didn't rule out the possibility of the board reinstating one or more of the eliminated programs. He said the board will "continue to have conversations" about the topic.

"That's our challenge going forward," Kolar said. "I know it will be on the table at the next board meeting (on June 12)."

District 10 already is facing the possibility of spending some of its $2.3 million in reserve cash to fill the budget deficit. If cuts aren't made, officials say, the amount of money drained from the reserve fund will increase.

Parent Nicole Frank says she sees nothing wrong with using reserve money to buy the district time to find a solution.

"We're asking for one more year to get this done and figure out a three-year plan," Frank said. "You don't need to make these three cuts right now when you haven't completely exhausted all possibilities for revenue."

Frank said one revenue option the district shouldn't consider is another ballot question asking voters to approve a property tax increase. "With all the catastrophe that has happened," she said, "I don't think that would pass."

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