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Round Lake schools could hold referendum

By Jason J. King, Daily Herald Staff Writer, October 03, 2003

Round Lake area school district residents likely will see a referendum on the ballot in the next year or two to help pay for a new building to replace the aging Magee Middle School.

How much the school district will seek is still unknown. The price tag for the new school is not yet known, and the district hopes to get grants from the state to offset some of the cost.

Schools Chief Executive Dennis Stonewall said, however, that he hopes the district can creatively finance the building to lessen the impact on district residents.

"We hope to restructure and refinance some of our bonds so that we won't increase the district's tax rate," Stonewall said. "If we need to, we'll have to seek some additional money."

District voters last approved a tax increase request for the school district in 1998. That paid for additions and improvements at several district schools, including an addition to Indian Hill School in Round Lake Heights that will serve as a second middle school to complement Magee.

The district's last referendum was on the March 2002 ballot. That request sought $18.5 million to roll its short-term debt, at that time around $14 million, into a long-term payback in an attempt to stave off further state intervention in the district's difficult finances.

Voters turned down the request, and the state appointed a panel to assume control of the district.

The district plans to replace the more than 50-year-old Magee building with a new, 135,000-square-foot school on the same site. The district had considered renovating the current building but decided razing it and building a new facility to house 1,350 kids made more sense.

The district hopes to have the building done by 2006 or 2007. The district's architect, Dave Wickwire, convinced the district that trying to finish the project by 2005 wouldn't be impossible but could possibly lead to something being overlooked in the plan.

"I'm afraid if we try to move too fast we're going to miss something or there's going to be ideas from staff that may not get addressed," Wickwire said. "This building will be in the middle of town and will be viewed a lot. It should be something that will last a long time."


Board's budget violates guidelines

By Alexa Aguilar, Post-Dispatch, 10/06/2003

After nearly three hours of debate, the Venice School Board voted to send its financial overseers a budget that was about $6,500 short of its goal.

The embattled district is under state oversight for not keeping financial records or paying neighboring schools for special education services. The financial oversight panel gave the School Board an extra week to come up with a balanced budget for the upcoming year, which is required by state law. Since the board hasn't met the panel's demands, it could be removed, and the district's funding could be withdrawn.

On Monday night, the board chose not to lay off employees, a move that would have translated to a $50,000 budget surplus, one of the provisions the financial oversight panel required. Ron Ganschinietz, the interim superintendent, made a recommendation for cuts that would have given the district a $58,000 surplus, but the board refused to vote for it. Board member Carolyne Wilson walked out in protest.

"We balanced the budget, that's all we can do," said board member Eddie Lee Salmond about the board's decision to make fewer cuts.

Salmond became defiant when it was suggested that the district of about 170 students did not need a full-time nurse on site and that the district could balance the budget if it eliminated the position. The nurse, Stephanie Wise, is Salmond's niece. He acknowledged that the board has sparked criticism for hiring relatives but said children are hurt too often to not have a nurse on site.

Board member William Tyler said that the board needed to give the financial oversight panel what it asked.

"Why would we want to send something up there that's not adequate?" Tyler said. "... We're at a point where we have to deal with it."

The board voted 4-1, with one abstaining, to pass their version of the budget. The three-member financial oversight panel meets tonight to act on the board's vote.

The board also faces a possible grand jury investigation by the Madison County state's attorney's office into an alleged illegal meeting by some board members.


Venice School Board gets 9-day extension to balance budget

By Alexa Aguilar, Post-Dispatch, 10/07/2003

The Venice School Board was granted a nine-day reprieve Tuesday night to come up with a balanced budget for its schools. If not, the board is out.

At a meeting Tuesday, the district's state-appointed financial oversight panel gave the board until Oct. 16 to balance its books, or the panel will take action to eliminate the board.

An audience of school employees and Venice residents collectively groaned as the panel rendered its decision. The district has been under state oversight since June, when it was discovered the board was not keeping financial records or paying neighboring schools for special education services.

The chaotic status of the district could jeopardize school funding from the state Board of Education. State and county officials say they can't guarantee the Venice district - which serves about 170 students in kindergarten through high school - will be open next year.

"You need to remove the board," said Carolyne Wilson, the only board member present at the meeting Tuesday. The board "is not going to balance that budget," she said.

The oversight panel earlier had given the board until Monday night to fix the budget that it submitted in late September. When board members met Monday night, they refused to vote for the personnel cuts and other cost-saving measures submitted by interim Superintendent Ron Ganschinietz. Instead, they approved a budget they thought was about $6,500 short of their goal.

But the actual numbers show that the board still needs to come up with $180,000 by Oct. 16 to have a balanced budget, Wilson said. The board did not account for items such as retiring employees and workers' compensation in its plan, Wilson said.

"No more extensions," the oversight panel's chairman, Rudy Wilson, promised the grumbling crowd. The panel granted this extra time, he said, because it wants to make sure it is following the law.

Alfred Session, a 16-year Venice resident, said he thought the board should explain to the community why the district's finances are in shambles.

"We've been giving them money and they misspent it," Session said. "I want them to have nothing to do with any more of my money."


Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777