Parent raising money to avoid Prairieview-Ogden cuts

ROYAL — This week a letter went out to parents in the Prairieview-Ogden school district, asking for donations to save teachers' jobs.

The letter is the brainchild of Lonna Pruitt, who has two young children and fears their education will be harmed by cuts in the classroom.

"The State of Illinois has made draconian cuts in school funding the last few years and there is no reason to believe that it will stop," the letter says. "It is maddening and shameful that the State is making local school districts and our citizens suffer for their mistakes, but suffering will continue for the foreseeable future, and without your help we will more quickly come to the edge of the 'cliff.'"

PVO, a K-8 district with 250 students in eastern Champaign County, has had a deficit in its education fund for the last three years, the letter explains. The school board has avoided layoffs but has not filled positions after teacher retirements.

Further, the letter states, teachers agreed to a $325 step raise instead of their negotiated 3 percent raise, and the school board has agreed to limit staff reductions next school year to three full-time-equivalent teachers. The district's administrators have also agreed to have their salaries frozen and benefits reduced.

The letter also states that an anonymous donor has given $50,000 to PVO in the hopes of sparing a teaching position from being cut.

The $50,000 donation made Pruitt wonder if there were others who would be willing to donate.

"I felt this way for a long time — that I didn't want things to change — but I didn't know what to do," she said. "I got that phone call (about the donation) and realized there was something we could do."

Originally Pruitt sent fliers home, but then she branched out and got the entire taxpayer list for the PVO district.

Pruitt said she has received $5,000 from another family and multiple checks for $50.

Pruitt said she knows the final decision is up to the board, but she hopes the donation drive will save all three teachers from being cut.

Pruitt said she feels like the one-on-one attention students get from teachers who have small classes is instrumental to the success of students at PVO. In the 2011-12 school year, PVO is one of the few school district to meet adequate yearly progress goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act

"I went to Prairieview," said Pruitt, who has a first-grade son and a younger daughter. "I think I just have such warm memories of small classes."

Pruitt said she knows the solution is only temporary and may only save a teacher's job for a year, but she feels it is worth it.

"It gives a teacher a year and maybe in a year something will change," she said.

Superintendent Vic White said the letter reiterates that the board cannot make any guarantees that even with donations teachers will not have to be cut, but he stressed the cuts are not official yet and multiple options are being looked at.

White said state aid has been drastically cut. The district previously received $500,000 and now receives $140,000.

"We will run a deficit of approximately $294,000 in the education fund for fiscal year 2013," he said.

White said the district has already made many cuts, including teacher supplies, textbooks and support position.

"Everything else we have cut to the bone in the last three years," he said, noting that most employees are doing multiple jobs.

White said the education fund started the fiscal year with a balance of $1,683,100. He expects expenditures of $1,977,650, most of which, $1,219,400, is related to salaries.

White said the teachers agreeing to the $325 step raise will save the district $26,000 in next year's budget. Cutting three full-time teaching positions will save $150,000, which will not stop the district from running a deficit again next year.

Over the last three years, the district has used reserve funds instead of cutting personnel, White said.

White said the district has no plans to close any schools.

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