Pana School District is facing a decision about one of its buildings in light of a continuing deficit budget.
Superintendent Dr. David Lett presented to the school board Monday evening the possibility of closing Jefferson Middle School in Tower Hill as a cost saving measure at the end of this school year. A final decision on the matter will be made at the November meeting.
Jefferson currently houses fifth and sixth grade students.
“It’s been 10 years since the annexation of Tower Hill into the school district. It (the building) has served us,” Dr. Lett said.
The revenue began its decline in 2012 with proration of general state aid. The district has tried to hold expenses steady, but expenses have exceeded the revenue since fiscal year 2012 and the district has been running in deficit spending the past two years.
“We have more than $1 million is lost revenue since 2011,” Lett said. “It’s the frustrating part for all schools in the state.”
“If we had simply gotten what we were entitled to over the past three years, we would not be having to make this decision. It’s a revenue problem, not an expenditure problem,” Lee continued.
Lett noted that the Pana district population grew nearly 200 students with the Tower Hill annexation in 2003. With that came an increase in state aid revenue, which continued through the 2011 fiscal year. However, student population has declined steadily since 2005.
“We’ve also been losing students over the past nine years. Mobility is a big factor in the district. We’ve been losing students fairly steadily almost to the point of pre-annexation level,” Lett said.
In addition to the possible school closing, which is projected to save $800,000, the district is projecting a $450,000 savings by not replacing five certified staff throughout the district at the end of the year.
Pana Education Association president and Jefferson Middle School teacher Paul Donahue addressed the board on behalf of the teaching staff at Jefferson School.
“This is the fault of the State of Illinois for not funding education,” he said. After giving arguments against cutting teaching staff, he concluded that closing Jefferson is the best option. Teachers would follow the fifth grade students to Lincoln Elementary and the sixth grade students to the Junior High School.
Board member Clint Foor and Dr. Lett will be addressing the Tower Hill Village Board on November 13. The public is invited to attend.
“If the money and the students were there to support it, we wouldn’t be having to make this decision,” Foor said. “People are sad to see it close but they understand the sad state of affairs of our state which doesn’t have education as a priority as it should be.”
The building’s future is unknown at this point, according to Assistant Superintendent David Dively.