The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 ratifies boundaries as new dispute erupts
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved the elementary school boundary changes without the controversial change to Bartlett’s Nature Ridge Elementary School and including grandfathering at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 14.
After Nature Ridge families spoke out for four straight meetings, culminating with the special meeting a week ago, the board asked the administration to keep that school as is.
However, new controversy arose as parents from Hoffman Estates’ Lincoln Elementary School came out to oppose the moving of 226 students from that school to Coleman, Lords Park and McKinley elementary schools, all in Elgin.
“On Friday was the first time I found out of the change in school,” said Mary Lou Castillo, one of 15 parents to speak during public comments during an emotionally charged portion of the meeting.
The common complaint was that parents from that school just learned about the change, and there were even charges of racism and discrimination made. All parents from the school who spoke made their comments in Spanish and used the district’s interpreter.
Lincoln is currently at 97.4 percent total capacity according to the Citizens’ Advisory Council’s (CAC) data, a number expected to rise to 99.4 percent by the 2019-20 school year.
In contrast, Nature Ridge’s capacity currently is at 90.8 percent and trending down to 77.6 percent by 2019-20 without any changes, and the original proposal would have moved students that live directly across the street from that school.
Lisa Burke, a Nature Ridge parent, spoke to thank the district for not including her school’s change but “this is a very difficult thank you after all of the emotional comments we just heard.”
However, Burke said she was grateful the board looked at the numbers which showed no need for a change.
Tracy Smodilla, a Bartlett resident, did not specifically come to speak on the Lincoln controversy but said: “What we heard tonight is heartbreaking, and it’s clear that they were not communicated with.”
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the Nature Ridge change came after hearing from the board about the declining enrollment making it unnecessary. He also said the grandfathering provision will allow current fifth-graders, but not their younger siblings, to stay at their current school next year if a change was made to their boundary.
On the communication to Lincoln, he said it was communicated.
“This has been a year and a half long process,” Sanders said. “It included our Citizens’ Advisory Council.”
Sanders said Lincoln had three representatives on the CAC, six emails were sent out and the changes were posted at the school.
Board member Sue Kerr asked about the district’s plans on welcoming shifting students to their new schools next year to which Sanders said they will plan open houses. Kerr recommended a pen pal program to help make new friends now before the change comes.
The board voted 5-2 to approve the changes, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voting no.
Ward said she was appreciative of the change to Nature Ridge. She said it was the first she heard of complaints at Lincoln, and I feel badly about that.”
However, the no vote for Ward and Holt hinged mainly on the fact the district is tying in full-day kindergarten to the changes.
“I will be voting no because the point of the boundary changes was to make room for full-day kindergarten which I do not support,” Ward said.
Holt asked for internal data from the over 200 students a year that have gone through full-day kindergarten in U-46, and he said that the data he saw did not show the benefits of offering that district-wide.
“My issue is that our own internal data that our administration provided me, I just don’t see the academic benefit maybe right now,” Holt said. “I also know we’re entering a fiscal year of uncertainty with the state where the state could slash even more funding.”
Ward noted the need for an additional 55 teachers and a payback of 17 to 18 years for the initial cost of implementation including building additions.
“I don’t think we should be taking on new expenses when we can’t currently budget without relying on borrowing,” Ward said, who added the studies are unclear if there are benefits as there are plenty on both sides.
Holt encouraged Lincoln parents to stay involved and “in my eyes, one of the best parts of our republic is the ability to address and petition your elected officials.”
Board member Traci Ellis called it an “engaging, emotional process.” She apologized to the Lincoln parents but said the communication was there and she was “extremely distraught that you’re distraught. I’m hearing about your distress for the first time tonight.”
Not making the change to Nature Ridge meant the district would not move the English as a Second Language program from Liberty to Prairieview, both in Bartlett. Liberty is currently at 92 percent capacity which would have declined by moving the ESL program after receiving 107 students from Nature Ridge, and that did lead to parents from that school offering feedback to board members on social media.
“I just wanted to dispel the notion that somehow this wasn’t a rational, thought-out process for me that I wasn’t looking at the data, that I did not talk to administration at length,” Ellis said. “I was emailing Mr. Sanders repeatedly asking for input, clarification…”
Phil Costello, who voted via phone, supported the proposal and said although full-day kindergarten is tied to the change, it is not the final vote on that.
“While I understand that the boundary changes include assumptions about the full-day kindergarten, they do not include the finances for that,” Costello said.
Costello added that he supports full-day kindergarten, “but it would only be if it was in a revenue neutral budget.”
Board member Veronica Noland said that full-day kindergarten outweighed the concerns of the Lincoln parents.
“It pains me to say that I would not take into consideration the Lincoln parents’ comments at this point, but I have to in order to move forward with full-day kindergarten,” Noland said. “I do apologize for that, but the benefit is just so much greater for all of our communities that I have to vote for this boundary change.”