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updated: 7/9/2012 11:07 PM

Now, tough decisions for St. Charles school board after Summit 303

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A loud call for increased foreign language classes, a wider range of electives and a desire for every student in St. Charles Unit District 303 to have his or her own computer now sits in the hands of school board members.

The results of the recent Summit 303 community feedback sessions on the future needs of local schools were delivered to board members Monday night. But while the desires of the community are clear, how to bring the wish list into reality is not. Community members did not suggest any new methods for infusing new cash into the district during the five summit meetings.

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Former board member Scott Nowling was one of the community members who helped organize the summit meetings. He told current board members in presenting the findings that the heavy lifting is up to them.

"The framework from the beginning was helping children explore their passions," Nowling said. "It seems to me the community was really saying, 'We buy that.' What the community didn't agree on was how we get that done. They were telling you that you might have some tough decisions ahead."

Those tough decisions are framed by the changing finances of the district. The booming expansion of the residential, commercial and industrial tax base of the district has reversed. With it has come a decline in the student population. All that means less money to work with and a community that may be paying less attention to the schools.

But while longer school days to accommodate new foreign language classes will cost money, there were some recommendations that don't carry the same price tag. Board members may choose to tackle those first.

Among the community recommendations was support for eliminating the class ranking system at the district's two high schools.

Summit participants generally agreed the current system pushes students to pad their grades and ranking rather than encourage them to explore subjects and activities that actually interest them.

On the same level, the creation of a "senior institute" at the high schools to pair students with internships and job share programs would also have less of a cost.

There is no timetable for the school board to either discuss or implement the community recommendations. The board will approve the budget for the next school year in coming weeks. That will give the community a better picture of what money there is to implement any changes down the road.

Nowling said he expects the community will be patient. One of the other overriding messages of the summit meetings was that the community wants board members to be "fiscally responsible" and time the changes to when there is room in the budget.

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