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Money starting to flow for 5th Ward school

Nearly half of the expected cost to build the new 5th Ward school will be in the District 65 budget for the upcoming school year.

Budget officer Kathy Zalewski told the school board’s Personnel, Buildings & Grounds and Finance Committee Monday that, “for the first time, we are including the initial cost of construction for the 5th Ward school” in the budget — $18 million for the upcoming school year .

The funds will be used for items such as architectural studies, soil analyses, and purchases of furniture.

The new building is projected to cost $40 million, and is targeted to open for academic 2024-25, bringing a neighborhood school back to the historically Black 5th Ward for the first time in decades.

Information on the 5th Ward school was part of an overall tentative draft presentation for the upcoming budget, which is projected at $152 million, a roughly $1 million decrease from how the current fiscal year is expected to wrap up.

Zalewski said it also looks like an expected $800,000 deficit will actually end up as a small surplus in FY 2023.

“Between the pandemic, the war, and the uncertainty, we did very well,” Zalewski noted.

A huge budgetary help will be $3.3 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars.

The district is saving money itself largely through the reduction of 23 teaching positions, through attrition rather than layoffs.

“Those were efficiencies, not cuts,” said Committee Chair Joey Hailpern.

“As someone who has been RIF’d (Reduction in Force, or laid off) by District 65 before, it’s nice not to have to do it” this time, said the former teacher.

Fewer teachers are needed because the district continues to have fewer students. Zalewski said enrollment is expected to drop by another 58 students in the upcoming year, to 6,439. As recently as 2016-17, K-8 enrollment stood at 7,559.

This budget presentation was just tentative. More updated specifics will come in August, with a school board vote to approve the budget in September.

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