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posted: 5/12/2010 12:01 AM

Budget concerns lead U-46 to delay border changes

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By Kerry Lester

Budget cuts have pushed boundary changes in Elgin Area School District U-46 back at least a year, members of the district's Citizens Advisory Council learned Tuesday night.

District spokesman Tony Sanders told the council's enrollment and facilities committee members, who have been reviewing possible new attendance zones since the start of the year, that their work has been "delayed to a more appropriate time."

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Increasing class sizes to 28 students in kindergarten through third grades and 33 students in fourth through sixth grades will artificially inflate capacity at the district's 53 schools next year. It also will allow the district to decrease the number of portable classrooms in use from 76 this year to 20 next year, Sanders said.

The class size changes are expected to save U-46, which expects to begin next year with at least a $41 million budget hole, $6.6 million.

"As soon as we're able to fund to a more adequate staffing pattern, your work will be resumed," operations consultant Jim Feuerborn said.

The announcement didn't sit well with many parents who joined the committee this year to help work for solutions to the overcrowding at their children's schools.

"I feel completely blindsided right now. We have been coming to meetings and working hard for months," Lincoln Elementary mother Laura Lamont said. "It's ridiculous. We still have schools that are going on two, three, five years with no music room, with mobiles. There's nothing you can do for us other than changing a boundary. I can't believe our students are going so many years in an overcrowded school just making due."

Committee members were also upset that they voted on a report on capacity several days before the district came to the decision to scrap the boundary changes.

New boundaries were originally slated to be redrawn this fall and implemented in the 2011-12 academic year. In addition to the class size-changes because of budget cuts, locations of various programs, a subject broached in recent committee meetings, needs to be reexamined, Sanders said.

Boundaries, a touchy subject in the 41,000-student district, have been a hot topic since late last summer, when a capital planning report completed by two outside firms found a dozen schools over capacity, according to last year's enrollment numbers.

The school deemed the most overcrowded was Hillcrest Elementary in Elgin, at 130 percent capacity.

According to Feuerborn's 2009-10 enrollment report, topping the list now is Lincoln Elementary in Hoffman Estates, at 114.2 percent capacity. Nature Ridge follows at 113.6 percent. Hillcrest now stands at 108.3 percent. Other schools, like Prairieview in Bartlett and Ridge Circle in Streamwood, are considered under capacity.

The last time the district redrew boundaries was in 2004. After U-46 made the decision to move to a "neighborhood schools model" - with a majority of students within walking distance of their assigned campus - a group of Elgin families filed a lawsuit claiming the new boundaries violated the constitutional rights of black and Hispanic students. That suit was granted class-action status in August 2008 and has cost the district more than $8.7 million in attorney fees so far.

Sanders said the district will, in the meantime, still look at other ways to fix overcrowding.

Changes: Many parents upset with delay

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