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Dist. 129 starts layoffs, eyes school closing
By Susan Sarkauskas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/17/2009 12:02 AM

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West Aurora District 129 continued to batten its financial hatches Monday night, giving notice to 169 workers that they won't have a job next school year.

Of those employees, 106 are teachers, librarians and other certified personnel. Cutting them will save the district $6 million in salaries and benefits, according to Vickie Nissen, assistant superintendent for finance. The rest are office workers, custodians, aides and the like.

State law requires 60 days notice before the end of the school year to workers who aren't needed due to declines in enrollment or elimination of programs.

Some of the layoffs are due to the district losing 350 students, primarily because it has tightened up enforcement of its residency rules, said Superintendent Jim Rydland.

But the rest could come from, among other things, the closure of Lincoln Elementary School and the elimination of programs for at-risk preschoolers at Todd Early Learning Center. Both are being considered as the board makes its budget for next fiscal year.

The district cites lags in receiving state money as one reason - the state presently owes it $4 million. The district also is uncertain how much property tax revenue it will receive, as property values have declined.

The district receives about 31 percent of its operating money from the state. In contrast, general state aid accounts for only 4.3 percent of neighboring Batavia District 101's income. Because of the shortfall, the district borrowed $15 million in January at an interest rate of 2.7 percent. The money will be repaid when the district receives its property tax revenue this summer. However, it may need to borrow another $5 million before then, Nissen said.

Closing Lincoln Elementary School, which is more than 100 years old, could save the district $915,925 a year - two-thirds of it in salaries. It also could eliminate or delay up to $1 million in major repairs and renovations expected in the next five years.

Students would be transferred to Nicholson and Freeman elementary schools; some students at Nicholson would be sent to other schools.

Rydland expects the school board to decide next month whether to close Lincoln.

He is particularly vexed at the state over delays in reimbursement for the at-risk program at Todd, Rydland said, which also provides state-required services for special-education preschoolers. The district added the program at the encouragement of the state, which now owes more than $300,000 for both Todd programs as of Monday.

"We built a program based on a promise," he said.