The differences between “now” and “then” during the 22 years Ron Pazanin has spent as superintendent of Big Hollow Elementary District 38 are amazing.
When he started in 1990, the district employed only 18 teachers. Now he oversees more than 150 teachers and support staffers.
Enrollment has grown from a mere 305 students who come from portions of Fox Lake, Round Lake, Lakemoor, Volo and Ingleside, to 1,780 today.
Then there’s his office. He’s gone from the largest office at tiny Big Hollow Primary School in Fox Lake to operating in a windowless room the size of a large closet in the new ultra-large middle school.
“I don’t need any more than this,” Pazanin said, speaking with a heavy South Side accent that turns a “th” sound into a “d.” “This is fine for me.”
Despite the many changes that have taken place in his District 38 tenure, Pazanin said he still follows the one rule that has served him well in becoming one of the longest reigning superintendents in Lake County: trust those around him.
“Treat your staff as professionals, get to know them personally and trust them to do the right thing,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with a great staff over the last 22 years; I’ve worked with a whole lot of good people, and it’s made my job that much easier.”
On June 30, Big Hollow will say goodbye to the retiring Pazanin, ushering in an unfamiliar era at the once tiny district now marked by a modern three-school campus at Nippersink Road and Fish Lake Drive in Ingleside.
District 38 board officials are still going through the process of determining his replacement and hope to have a new superintendent named by spring, officials said.
Pazanin said he rarely looks back at the way the district has changed since he first came aboard. But, he said, it’s hard to not be overwhelmed with the population explosion that caused the district to swell five times its size in 15 years and become one of the fastest growing in the county.
When he first took over, Pazanin said, he saw a population boom starting in Lake County to the east of his district in Gurnee and Grayslake. Then he looked at the huge acres of untouched open space in the Big Hollow boundaries and realized home developers and families would be arriving.
“We did our own district demographic study in 1996, and we were stunned by the results,” he said. “We immediately knew the kids would be coming.”
Demographers were almost spot on in anticipating the district would triple in size between 1996 and 2008, then increase steadily to nearly 1,800 students in 2012.
“We’re a little below that now, but the housing market caused that to happen,” Pazanin said. “But we are still watching one oversized chunk of land out in Lakemoor that can fit 550 homes on it.”
District 38 school board member Vickie Gallichio, who has served on the board for nearly 15 years — including six as president — credits Pazanin with helping guide the board and community in the right direction.
“Ron constantly kept the board apprised of what was going on in those areas, down to the number of lots sold and the number of foundations poured,” Gallichio said. “His projections were always right on target.”
In 1996, when the population explosion had just started, the district was operating out of two small, outdated schools at routes 12 and 134. Pazanin knew they needed more space.
“We asked the voters if they wanted us to expand to one centralized campus or just schools in different neighborhoods around the district,” he explained. “They wanted one campus, so we bought this 62-acre campus for $1.5 million and used that as our future.”
Since then, the district has grown in population for 15 straight years, he said. In six of the past 10 years, Big Hollow had more growth than any other district in Lake County.
“For awhile there, seeing our student population increase by 300 or 400 kids per year was nothing shocking for me,” Pazanin said. “It may have shocked others, but we knew it was growing.”
Between 1998 and 2005, voters approved two referendums for three new schools — a primary building, an elementary building, and a middle school — and, then they approved a tax rate hike of a quarter to keep things operating in the black.
“It was with Ron’s forward thinking that led to the purchase of the property for the new campus and the building of the new buildings without ever having to house students in rented mobile classrooms,” Gallichio said.
You don’t serve 22 years as superintendent in a growing school district without taking some lumps along the way. Pazanin is no exception.
None was worse, he said, than the way voters reacted after the district attempted to raise the tax rate by $1 per $100 equalized assessed valuation.
If that referendum had been approved, the owner of a $200,000 home would have paid an increase of about $600 annually in property taxes.
“We were just hammered by voters,” Pazanin said. “But the next day we went back to the drawing board, asked voters for a lower number, and eventually got what we needed.”
He said voters later approved a 25-cent tax rate increase, and that has kept the school operating in the black for the past five years.
“Over the years, the community as a whole has been very supportive of Big Hollow,” Pazanin said. “I’ve been blessed with great boards of education to work with, supportive community members, wonderful students and excellent teachers.”
However, he said, there remains a couple of things he’d like to accomplish before his contract expires June 30.
He wants to turn in a balanced budget not requiring short-term loans to make ends meet, and he wants the district to sell the vacant 12-acre property at routes 12 and 134 in Fox Lake, where the former primary and middle school buildings once stood.
The property has been for sale for the past three years, and so far no one has made an offer even close to what it’s worth, Pazanin said.
The district is still trying, he said. This time it is using a Realtor to sell the land rather than hoping someone offers a minimum bid in an auction that is near its expectations.
“I don’t know whether we will get both of those things done — specifically the property — but we anticipate we will turn in a budget that will be in the black,” he said.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.