A retired Dixon school administrator was hired Monday night to help the Meridian School District sort out its financial woes.
The Meridian School Board approved hiring James Brown, Dixon, to serve as interim superintendent until June 30. He will be paid $595 per day.
Brown had his work cut out for him Tuesday when he officially took over the helm of the financially-strapped district.
Brown said he is ready for the challenge.
"I'm looking forward to working with the board, staff, and administration," he said. "I think together we can get through the rough spot they're going through."
Brown has 42 years experience in education, 18 years as a teacher and the remainder as an administrator.
He served as superintendent of the Dixon School District for five years, retiring five years ago.
Besides facing a projected $1.9 million deficit for the current school year, the district recently accepted the resignations of its two top administrators, superintendent Robert Morelan and assistant superintendent Thomas Gaudreau.
Board members have declined to say why the two resigned.
Board president Bruce Larson said Feb. 2 that the resignations are unrelated to the district's money problems. He said the financial dilemma is because the district has lost significant revenue in recent years due to several factors, including reduced state funding and a decline in the equalized assessed value.
The board is asking voters to approve a referendum April 9 that members hope will bolster the Education Fund by $1.25 million.
During Monday's meeting, board members authorized Brown to contact PMA Financial Network, a company that can examine the district's financial situation and help school officials develop a five-year plan.
Brown said he would also start holding meetings with certified and non-certified staff members on Tuesday to get their input as to where cuts can be made to reduce the deficit.
He will also meet with the board's Finance Committee, which is made up of Larson and members Bob Mellon and John Smith.
"We'll roll up our sleeves together," Brown said.
Making the cuts will not be easy, he said, because it will likely mean dismissing teachers through reduction in force (RIF).
"These are people who have been doing a good job for you," Brown said.
To comply with state statutes, reductions in force must be made in March, he said.
"You're going to have to make the cuts prior to the referendum," Brown said. "If the referendum passes, you'll be hiring them back."
Smith said administrators have already been working on determining where cuts can be made with a target of reducing expenditures by $900,000.
Board member Steve Pierce said he believes the cuts have to be made at the most severe level.
"I'm not talking about $900,000; I'm talking about $2 million," he said.
Both Pierce and board member Kevin Glendenning said the board needs to do a better job of getting the information about the referendum out to district voters.
"People aren't going to approve the referendum if they don't know what the cuts are going to be," Pierce said.
Glendenning said he also wants to be sure the voters are given factual information about the district's finances.
The school board is also facing a civil lawsuit filed last month by the district's former director of human resources Jennifer Porter, 38.
The lawsuit was filed against the district and Morelan in federal court in Rockford and alleges discrimination after Porter was replaced in her job by a male.
Monday night, the board directed Brown to organize hiring policies with an eye to hiring a business manager, human resources director, and possibly a building principal.