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Litchfield school finances take toll on superintendent

LITCHFIELD, Mich. - Like many school districts in the state, Litchfield Community Schools has endured its share of cutbacks because of budget problems and declining enrollment. That has led to harsh decisions about the tiny district's future - decisions that Superintendent John Chandler says led to his resignation.

Mr. Chandler has announced that he will be leaving the small Hillsdale County district in June, 2003, perhaps earlier. One reason behind his decision is the increasingly difficult task of dealing with a dwindling school budget.

“I think we have done an excellent job in dealing with the circumstances we've been given, but it's always been in defensive ways,” said Mr. Chandler, 38. “I'm tired of looking at good people and telling them we can't afford them anymore.”

Mr. Chandler has led the 600-student district since the 1999-2000 school year. During his tenure, the district made a number of improvements, including reducing class size to 15 pupils from kindergarten through the fourth grade.

Despite his accomplishments, the district was forced to make tough decisions. During the last four years, the district's enrollment has dropped by about 70 students, which equates to about $450,000 or about 10 percent of the district's entire budget, Mr. Chandler said.

And during that time, the district has laid off about 10 staff members.

“Personally and professionally, that's not what I want to do. I don't want to be laying off people year after year,” Mr. Chandler said. “The district has been very good to me. It's just a matter of it being time for me to move on.”

School board member Harold Ferry said the board has not discussed what its next move will be. But he noted that it will be difficult to start a search without knowing exactly when Mr. Chandler will leave.

“It's a blow to the district to lose their superintendent. We lose continuity on programs we're working on,” he said. “It does present challenges, but that's what we're here for.”

Mr. Chandler said he hopes to continue his career in a district with a stable or growing enrollment, and believes now is a good time to make the change to accommodate his young children who are about to start school.

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