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posted: 5/30/2010 12:01 AM

District 26 school board to vote on grade center switch next week

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After almost a year of discussion and months of heated board meetings, the River Trails Elementary District 26 school board could decide Tuesday to abandon its neighborhood school concept in favor of grade centers.

The move would affect the district's two elementary schools, Euclid and Indian Grove. If grade centers are implemented, all prekindergarten through second-graders would go to one of the schools and all third-through fifth- graders would attend the other.

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River Trails Middle School would not be affected.

The school board has been discussing the switch for months in a highly charged atmosphere that has included more than 150 parents at board meetings and accusations of racism against some opponents of the change. About half of Euclid's student body is Hispanic, compared to less than 10 percent of Indian Grove's.

Should the board vote in favor of grade centers, parent Frank Fiarito will start gathering signatures to put the issue on November's ballot as an advisory referendum.

"The community needs a voice," he said. "No matter how this gets decided, the community feels disengaged and what's sad is that so do the teachers."

Parent Dan Miller previously gave the school board a petition signed by more than 1,100 parents opposing grade centers.

"We still have board members who have not acknowledged the large percentage of people in our community who have voiced their opposition to this," Miller said. "I also think it's interesting that according to the community survey, two major stakeholders is this - elementary ed teachers and parents - are not in favor."

The same survey shows middle school teachers and 90 percent of the district's administrators back grade centers.

Several months ago, District 26 spent $18,000 to hire consultant James H. Warren to study the idea, which included surveying parents. His final report listed 21 advantages and 21 disadvantages to the switch.

Advantages include sharing resources and saving about $200,000 by eliminating four staff members. The disadvantages include spending $162,000 on more bus routes and causing families to have children attending multiple schools.

Most elementary districts in the area use neighborhood schools, including Arlington Heights District 25, Mount Prospect District 57 and Des Plaines District 62.

The results of the staff survey are posted at www.rtsd26.org.

The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at River Trails Middle School, 1000 Wolf Road in Mount Prospect.

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