ROSCOE — “We have to expect the best but prepare for the worst.”
Those words rang out with foreboding and anxiety from Kinnikinnick Superintendent Keli Freedlund.
With the Kinnikinnick School District going to requesting a tax increase in a referendum on March 18, Freedlund and the Kinnikinnick School Board are certainly hopeful that voters will grant them additional funds to offset their current $1 million shortfall.
In preparation for either outcome, Freedlund and the Kinnikinnick School Board have developed a three-year reduction plan in the event that the referendum is voted down.
“(If the referendum fails) our projections are showing that at the end of the year we won't have enough in our reserves and the state will come after us and want a 3-year reduction plan,” Freedlund said.
The plan presented Tuesday night features extensive cuts to programs not mandated by the state.
In the first year the district would cut six certified staff positions, the Honors programming, physical education, and instructional technology. Additionally, extra-curriculars, which 47 percent of the district's student body participate in, would be cut in grades 4 - 8. Finally, the district would have to cut its libraries. In all, the first year of the reduction plan would result in savings of $646,666.
Year 2 of the plan would see Art and Music for the entirety of the district cut completely from the curriculum. 100 percent of students in kindergarten - 5th grade participate in those subjects while 27 percent of 6th - 8th graders take part in art and 16 percent in music.
“We'll also need to look at enrollment at this time. If we are not able to raise enough revenue, we will have to push class sizes up. By year 2, we would be looking at every classroom being 30 students,” Freedlund said. “The three other Hononegah-feeder districts average 22.”
Year 2's cuts would see the district save just over half a million dollars.
In Year 3, the district's reading support program, which affects 36 percent of the student body, would be cut. There would also be further class size adjustments that could result in more certified staff reductions. The third year of the plan would save the district $192,520.
“This is not an easy discussion to have. I was in choir and orchestra and the entire package of education allowed me to be accepted to my first-choice university,” Freedlund said. “Everyone sitting up here voting understands the gravity of the situation.”
Freedlund went on to note that the Kinnikinnick School District has the lowest tax rate in Winnebago or Boone Counties. Kinnikinnick also has the lowest operating expense per pupil within the district at $7,757. In comparison, Shirland Community Consolidated School District spends $9,348, Rockton School District spends $9,328, and Prairie Hill School District spends $8,832. The average expense per pupil per year in the state of Illinois is $11,842.
“I don't think you can find a district as efficient as Kinnikinnick,” Freedlund said.
Throughout the meeting, officials blamed decreasing financial aid from Springfield for the situation that the district finds itself in. Should the referendum pass and state aid increase, Freedlund believes the board would absolutely consider giving money back to tax payers.
“This board has been very conscious of its tax payers and I would assume that they would look at the entire picture,” Freedlund said.
In addition to the 3-year reduction plan, but the board also presented potential increases for school fees. These fees include rises in the cost of early and late registration, the preschool program, and an athletic fee of $70.
Freedlund says without the referendum and without making the cuts drafted in its 3-year reduction plan, the district would deplete its funds by 2017.
“We have cut back in every area that we can possibly cut back in while still feeling comfortable,” Freedlund said. “Anything more will significantly devastate the Kinnikinnick schools.”
The referendum comes on the heels of a 5-year stretch during which the district has endured difficult times and dipped deeply into its reserves.
“I've been on the board on-and-off since 1999. The last time that we went for referendum was when we built Roscoe Middle School,” Kinnikinnick School Board President Edgar Diaz said. “We haven't asked tax payers for money since 2000. But we've been managing a deficit budget for 5 years without asking, we can't do it anymore.”
Freedlund noted that next month's board meeting has been scheduled for March 19, immediately following election day.
“On the March 19 agenda will be the actual approval of a reduction plan going into the fall of next year depending on the results of the election,” Freedlund said.
The referendum in question would see property taxes on a home valued at $100,000 rise by $159 in 2014 and $110 in 2015.
“If the referendum passes, we'll see a deficit reduction of two-thirds by 2015 and by 2016 we'll have a balanced budget,” Freedlund said. “Without extra revenue, we will have to go forward and make these adjustments.”