Colchester, IL – Like many school districts in the region, West Prairie will be faced with some tough choices heading into the next fiscal year.
Superintendent Jonathan Heerboth says most school districts should be well into preparing their budgets for next year, but this year, such preparations have stalled at West Prairie. He says administrators still don't know what level of funding the state will provide.
Heerboth says the district is hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
"Education by its nature is an optimistic business. We always hope for the best and we always count on next year being better this year," says Heerboth. "But right now, from a financial point of view, we see no reason to be optimistic at all."
Heerboth says the district will try to prepare for a $500,000 shortfall. West Prairie has a roughly $300,000 surplus in its education fund, which Heerboth says will help soften any potential blow from the state.
He says that also means the cuts to programs and personnel won't be as deep. But some programs funded by state grants, such as the at-risk Pre-K program, are still in danger.
"You can do all kinds of things to reduce the services that you provide to kids," says Heerboth. "But when they're out there competing in a global market, you sit back and say 'Well, we're so sorry that we didn't take care of you during the only period of time you get an education from us.' I just think it's unconscionable.
Heerboth says time is running out to make important decisions regarding staff cuts. The district has scheduled a public hearing on a potential "reduction in force" for March 16. The district has until 60 days before the end of the school year to inform tenured employees they'll be laid off. It has 45 days before the end of the school year to inform non-tenured employees.