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updated: 4/15/2014 12:19 PM

District 220 parents have plenty to say about class sizes

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By Doug Graham

Around 30 parents voiced their concerns about projected class sizes at elementary schools in Barrington Unit District 220 during a school board meeting Monday afternoon.

What was scheduled to be 15 minutes of public comment ended up dragging on for nearly two hours as parents, board members and administrators spoke -- at times, over each other -- about the issue.

The board recently voted to eliminate 11 full-time teaching positions at district elementary schools because of declining enrollment numbers.

In a release on Monday, the district provided parents with their projections on how many students will be in each elementary school classroom when the 2014-15 school year starts.

"Despite anticipated staff reductions for the 2014-15 school year, only eight of 156 elementary classes in Barrington 220 are projected to possibly have class sizes slightly above reasonable guidelines for next school year," the release stated. "That is just 5 percent of all elementary classes in the school district."

The release was titled "Relax. Still time to ensure class sizes are reasonable next year," but if anything the document seemed to have the opposite effect on parents at the meeting.

"The email that went out that told me to relax was offensive," Marvin Husby said. "That's what you tell a child, not an adult. If I told my wife to relax I'd be sleeping in the garage"

Many parents expressed confusion at board President Brian Battle's statement that the decision to cut teachers had nothing to do with the district's budget or other programs.

One program brought up by parents was one that will put a laptop into the hands of every Barrington High School student next year and iPads in the hands of many other students over the next few years.

Audrey Helminiski, a parent and area Realtor, said her clients are drawn to Barrington's excellent schools and teachers, but the effort to buy new technology is hurting the district's reputation.

"I don't think we need to buy iPads at the expense of teachers or higher class sizes," Helminiski said, adding that having the best teachers is more important that having the most toys.

After about 40 minutes of hearing parents' concerns and answering questions, the school board members left for a different meeting aimed at replacing Superintendent Tom Leonard, who is leaving for a superintendent job in Austin, Texas. Leonard then spent almost another hour walking parents through the process of projecting class sizes.

As he spoke, Leonard was peppered with questions and comments, leading him to ask the 20 or so parents who'd stuck around to have faith in him and his staff.

"You may think I'm the ogre from hell, but I really do like kids. I really like parents I really do pay attention to this stuff and I really do try to get it right," Leonard said. "Do I get it right every time? No. But I'm doing my best."

He added that in three months, when he leaves, the district will have someone else "much better" to make class size decisions.

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