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updated: 10/10/2013 4:49 PM

Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 engagement process hits snag

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Plans to begin a community engagement process in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 have hit at least a temporary snag.

School board members were expected on Wednesday to approve a $49,500 contract with a firm to facilitate a series of public meetings to help set the district's direction for the next five to seven years.

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But board members pulled approval of the contract from their agenda, saying they still need to "get on the same page" regarding the results they hope to achieve by the end of the proposed six-month process.

Board members wrestled with a proposal by St. Louis-based Unicom Arc to facilitate a series of as many as eight workshops, beginning in December, each focusing on a specific topic as determined by the group and facilitating team.

Several board members, including the district's Community Engagement Committee chairmen Brad Paulsen and James Vroman, said they had faith in Unicom's proposed system to get them the answers the board seeks about the concerns of the community and the willingness of the district's taxpayers to fix them. Several also emphasized the need to get residents without school-age children involved in the process.

Board member Jim Mathieson, however, was dissatisfied by a recent report Unicom delivered to a Missouri school.

"This does not impress me one bit," he said. "I could have done this myself and reached these conclusions."

Board member Joann Coghill said she, too, "would have liked to have seen more" from Unicom.

After a lengthy discussion, board members agreed to reach out to other Unicom clients and study other alternatives before revisiting the issue as the main focus of their Oct. 23 committee of the whole meeting.

Superintendent Brian Harris said the delay shouldn't be viewed as a setback.

"It's not a setback and I'll tell you why: It's too important. There was still some uncertainty among the board (members) about what the purpose was," Harris said. "We might have moved a little quickly toward the solution instead of having more discussion about the purpose. We'll move forward, but we just need to continue the discussion."

Earlier this summer, officials announced the district would play host to a series of community meetings to communicate with constituents and hear their concerns regarding several facets of the school system.

While those sessions are expected to be far-reaching, one topic almost certain to be discussed is the future of the Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

Voters rejected a proposed spring tax increase that would have allowed the district to replace what it says is an aging and outdated facility. Officials say they have identified substantial instructional and physical challenges at the school, where two-thirds of the students, ages 3 to 5, have special needs.

Not all of the bathrooms or entrances, for example, are accessible to students who use wheelchairs and walkers. Some students receive therapy at the end of hallways and in converted storage closets at the 1950s-era building, originally designed as an elementary school.

For now, though, it appears any such talks will be pushed back at least a few weeks while board members work to reach agreement on their goals for the sessions.

"Hopefully we can get a five- to seven-year strategic focus out of this once we get the right vendor and process to get us there," Harris said.

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