ST. CHARLES – A decision on a proposal to change all St. Charles School District 303 elementary school boundaries and close one school could be delayed and changed following a special meeting the School Board held Jan. 30 attended by several hundred residents.
More than 20 attendees took the podium to oppose what many called a “rushed” process to change boundaries and to close Fox Ridge Elementary School and repurpose it as an early childhood center. The board announced the proposal Jan. 18 and intended to vote on it as early as Feb. 12.
“You need more time on this,” said St. Charles 1st Ward Alderman Dan Stellato, who was among those who addressed the board.
The district held two community forums on the proposal within the past two weeks. District administrators who proposed the changes hope to have them in place soon so that they can implement them starting next fall.
The boundary changes would require that an estimated 700 elementary students be reassigned to different schools. Some parents vehemently objected to their students being transferred to Lincoln Elementary School, which is the district's smallest and oldest school.
“Lincoln is designed to facilitate learning in the 19th century,” parent Cathy Marciniak said. “It will not be able to accommodate the changing educational environment.”
Marciniak's children would be transferred to Lincoln from Fox Ridge under the current proposal.
After the public comments, board members cited a need to review the Jan. 18 proposal further and also to consider closing Lincoln. They decided to hold additional meetings for discussion, with dates to be announced.
District officials said closing Lincoln alone would not solve the problem the district is facing – declining enrollment in many of its elementary schools and some large class sizes on the city's growing west side.
During the past several months, the district has fielded complaints from parents about their students' classrooms having as many as 29 students while others have as few as 16 students.
Officials designed the Jan. 18 proposal to more fully utilize school space and to make elementary class sizes more uniform, with none higher than 27.
Several board members said the district must “right-size” the schools. Most of them agree that altering elementary school attendance boundaries district-wide is necessary to achieve this goal.
“I believe there absolutely is no choice,” board member Lori Linkimer said. “Boundaries have to be changed across the district.”
Linkimer is among those who believe school closure also will have to be part of the solution. Currently, elementary schools district-wide have more than 1,700 empty seats.
“It cannot go on like this year after year,” Linkimer said. “We have to look at closing schools.”
No matter what school or schools they close, district officials said unfortunately some residents will be unhappy with the decision.
“Schools [in the past] have been closed for the need of the system and the good of the system,” Linkimer said.
The district closed Little Woods School in 2011 and Evan Shelby School in 1976.