By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

Darien Village Board President Kurt Zipp addressed the Delavan-Darien School Board on Monday night and expressed his community’s disappointment in the district’s recent decision to close Darien Elementary School at the end of the school year.

The district voted to close the school in response to the failed attempt to pass a referendum April 3. Zipp said the handling of the referendum “left the school district and the residents holding the bag,” and residents are now paying the price for decisions the board has made in the past.

Zipp said nobody from the school district met with the Darien Village Board to ask for support of the referendum or highlight why the funds were needed, and the village never received any notice that its school was in jeopardy of closing. Zipp said the 2017-18 $1.5 million deficit budget was not explained to be a factor that drove the referendum. He also said no one from the district has communicated with businesses in Darien to see what skill sets high school graduates need to find employment.

“Where does this leave our community?” Zipp asked. “Not only are we not considered important enough to be a part of the solution, but we have no control of our own destiny.”

Zipp said after discussions with the Department of Public Instruction, legal counsel, current and former teachers and local residents, the village feels the need to take action to control its own future. Zipp said if the board follows through on its plan to close the school, the village will form its own school district for the village and any other township that wants to join it, leaving the Delavan district with 30 percent fewer students.

Zipp said the new district would be preschool through eighth grade and housed in the Darien Elementary School building – a building the village donated to the district in the late 1970s and will reclaim. Zipp said the village would contract its high school services with facilities that best fit its students.

Zipp said state law allows communities to create a new district based on a vote of residents through referendum without approval of the district.

“We have an abundance of experienced residents who have decades of school management experience to lead the process,” Zipp said. “This will be hard work. We do not want to go down this path but feel compelled for the good of our community.”

Zipp said the solution for the district is not to cut expenses but instead to increase revenue. He suggested the district interview every family that decides to leave through open enrollment and find out why they are leaving. If some of them can be convinced to stay or come back, the financial problems the district faces could go away.

Resident Andy Terpstra also advised the board to balance its budget at all costs. He said the district has done that over the past 10 years except for the last two. He said the district needs to return to a balanced budget in an effort to build up its general fund reserves.

 

Non-renewed teachers

      A proposal to give top priority in hiring to teachers and staff who were non-renewed as a result of the failed referendum passed unanimously. Board President Jeff Scherer said the policy is aimed at assuring staff that the district intends to hire back as many teachers and staff as possible. Board member Doreen Grams said the policy would let the teachers and staff who were let go know that the district cares about them and wants them back.

Grams proposed the policy be in place through the 2020-21 school year but later reduced it to the 2019-20 school year. She said if a referendum passes in November, many teachers and staff could be rehired. Superintendent Robert Crist said many have already found new jobs.

 
 

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