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Elk Lake Can Deal with $1.6 Million State Cut

Elk Lake School District expects about a $1.6 million cut from the government for the upcoming school year. As with most districts cuts were expected.

According to Superintendent Bill Bush, the state is "misleading," going back to the '08-'09 level when describing the cuts when it really goes back to '06-'07. Bush said that there would be about a $680,000 shortfall for basic education plus another $1 million from block grant and cyber charter funding.

How will the district deal with this? A lot of people will be retiring. Bush expects four professionals and three support staff will be leaving. Others who stay will become re-certified in different areas. There may be reduction in programs rather than eliminating reserves to come up with the difference. The very last thing they would consider would be furloughs for economic reasons.

Board director Arden Tewksbury reiterated that there are "no plans to lay people off but these are hard times. We'll be as true (to that idea) as we can." Bush said that kindergarten will continue to be a full-day program.

Board President Chuck Place said it is a "tough budget, but we will prevail." Tewksbury also claimed, "We are lucky. We are in a lot better position than some districts." "We need to focus on education and get away from activities," according to employee Sue Heed. She said that education has taken a back seat. Tewksbury said the board "will look at it very diligently," and that they agreed to go from three referees at a game to two. Place said the school district is in a solid condition, because the district has been very conservative over the years, and "I think we can weather the storm."

"How many years to weather this storm?" asked Rush Township resident Craig Sprout. Bush said it would be "quite a few, as many will be retiring in the next few years. We're in better shape than a lot of districts." Sprout also questioned the expansion project of the Career & Technology Center. "Don't be too proud to say this is a good time not to do it. The world is in a down-spin and I believe it will be several years before we are out of the down-spin."

Sprout wondered whether other schools that send students to the Career Center will be sending them next year, saying he understood some were researching other options. Bush responded that in this geographic area, they'd send them to the Career Center. Hiring of Career teachers was also questioned by Sprout. He said they are hired on emergency certificates. Sprout said he believed they couldn't hire unless someone is certified. They are also hired at higher steps, some at $50,000. That figure usually goes to those with certification, a Masters degree plus 12 additional credits, Sprout claimed. Bush said that there is no vocational certification and they look for qualified teachers.

"Do you want someone with a BA and no experience?" These teachers versus regular teachers are two different things. Many Career Center teachers have several years experience in the field, like construction, plumbing, etc. Bush said that in the Career education field, "we want the best in the field. If we could hire someone with the knowledge, skills, background (with certification)...I have not run into them in the interview process."

Auburn Township resident Jeannie Jayne asked if there were any letters of intent for students from other districts. Bush replied that no one has indicated they are not sending students. He also said that the government has not cut Career Center's budgets and expects it to grow. He can't guarantee, but feels the government is committed to them.

In other business, a resolution was passed regarding Senate Bill 1, which is a voucher resolution. Bush said "It takes resources away (from districts) and there is no data to show that they (students using vouchers to go to private schools) did better. The passed resolution records the board's opposition to the tuition voucher program.

Budget items included a licensing agreement for a company that sells merchandise with the Elk Lake logo, such as sweatshirts. Discussion focused on whether they should sign the agreement as an exclusive agreement with that company or not. It was decided to sign without exclusivity. This would allow the district to print their own and sell them as a fundraiser. The money from the licensing company amounts to $200 so far.

Permission was given to bid out an entry door, a lift truck, fuel oil and the elementary driveway paving. The new driveway will wrap around the elementary playground to eliminate the liability of kids going back and forth where vehicles drive.

The NEIU operating budget of $18,336 and an NEIU Special Ed contract passed. Reference was made to the ongoing investigation at the NEIU, with Bush saying they are looking for an executive director. Three superintendents, including Bush, will sit in on interviews looking at policies and ethical issues.

Health plans and dental/vision plans were discussed for the 2011-12 year. There will be no increase in the dental/vision plan. For the Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical, rates will continue to be $875 for a family and $400 for a single. The stop gap amounts, however, were increased from $90,000 to $120,000. Their choice was either $110,000 or $120,000, and the higher one was chosen as it will save the district $14,000 if they do not have much catastrophic usage.

In personnel, Josie Coddington and Virginia Hollister Lewis are retiring. In the Career Center building trades program teacher Gary Fenton was given a permanent contract (tenure).

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