Painful decisions ahead to fix Lake Ridge Schools deficit
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org February 11, 2013 9:40PM
Parent Lisa Rios talks about Grissom Elementary School during the public comment section of the Lake Ridge School Board meeting Monday evening in Calumet Twp. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:31AM
GARY — Lake Ridge Schools faces a $1.7 million budget deficit and no easy way of solving the problem.
Business manager James Huddleston laid out the possible moves the school board may decide to take in the next month to a packed board room Monday evening.
The district is considering closing a school building, outsourcing its maintenance and janitorial services, eliminating some sports and extracurricular activities, and requiring employees to increase their pension obligation. They took no action on those items on Monday.
“We’ll start to run in the red in October,” Huddleston said. “If we don’t make the cuts now, we won’t be able to make payroll and pay our debt service.”
Huddleston said a number of moves by the Indiana General Assembly have caused the deficit, including the property tax caps, changes to the school funding formula, and fewer property owners paying their taxes.
Educators, parents and union officials urged the board to avoid drastic action, particularly merging either Grissom or Hosford Park Elementary schools into Longfellow’s building.
Grissom Elementary School Title I facilitator Connie Scuderi said she’s stunned that the board would considering closing their school, which was labeled an ‘A’ school in the most recent state report card.
“If you make this decision, you’re not only closing the doors of Grissom, but you’re closing the doors on Black Oak,” Scuderi said.
Closure could affect property values, parent participation and enrollment in the district, she said.
Lisa Rios, whose son John attends Grissom, spoke passionately of how well her son has performed at the school and gave credit to teachers at the school.
“You have never seen the test scores this kid has brought home,” Rios said. “I will be taking my son to a private school if it closes down.”
Service Employees International Union Indiana division director Jim Balanoff, who represents custodial and food service workers, blamed the General Assembly for the problems, but begged the district not to compound that by making deep cuts to essential programs.
“The real problem is if the district makes bad decisions, there’s a danger that the district could enter a death spiral,” Balanoff said.
Longfellow Elementary fifth grade teacher Pam Balint suggested several other ways the district could recover the savings: an across the board pay cut, administrators paying into their health savings accounts, conducting professional development online, ending free insurance for retirees, and looking at more efficient ways of powering the district’s buildings.
Board members Annette Wells and Richard Lowe denied that the board has made any decisions yet.
Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley tried to sound hopeful at the close of the meeting.
“We’ve been here before and somehow we will get through this,” she said.