As Lake Ridge School Corp. discusses ways to deal with a $1.7 million budget deficit next year, including closing an elementary school, the district is holding public forums to get residents' input.
The Lake Ridge School Board got an earful Feb. 25 when nearly 200 parents, teachers and residents showed up to voice opinions on closing an elementary school and privatizing maintenance and custodian services.
School officials have said closing an elementary school could save $267,000 in 2013 and $800,000 in 2014. The board hasn't picked the school to be closed, although it did vote on a resolution to close one of the schools.
Addressing crises is nothing new at Lake Ridge. The district also was innovative in switching the failing Calumet High School to the New Tech philosophy, a major paradigm shift for the district.
The cash-strapped district has already made some difficult but necessary decisions in the past few years. Lake Ridge has outsourced food service and transportation, and it switched to the state health insurance plan. The Ensweiler Alternative Academy was closed, and space rented to Head Start.
But property tax collections are far lower than expected, which is contributing to the current budget crunch. It's not the school district's fault.
So Lake Ridge is again facing some tough choices.
"These decisions will be based on facts and data, and will take into consideration input from the community," Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley said. That's as it should be.
Community input is essential. But Lake Ridge should do more than just hold public hearings.
The district — all school districts, for that matter — would do well to follow the example set by Duneland School Corp., which is seeking the advice of a volunteer panel of corporate finance experts to analyze the budget and offer advice.
That outside review might bring new insights the school officials missed. If not, it could convince key community leaders that school officials haven't left any stones unturned.
It's a smart move for Duneland, and others should follow suit.
Lake Ridge, in the midst of a financial crisis, should embrace this idea quickly.