The school day will be 70 minutes shorter starting next fall at the Ridge Family Center for Learning, the Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 school board decided Monday night.
The decision follows the board's direction two weeks ago to extend instructional times by a half-hour at 12 other district schools as part of Superintendent Art Fessler's "One District" plan.
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Ridge, considered the district's K-5 school of choice that conducts an annual lottery to determine enrollment, currently operates on an eight-hour schedule four days a week and 6.5 hours on Wednesdays, to account for teacher professional development meetings.
While not taking a formal vote, the board took a straw poll that resulted in five of seven board members -- Sharon Roberts, Janice Krinsky, Karen Osmanski, Mardell Schumacher and Barbara Somogyi -- favoring Fessler's recommendation to shorten Ridge's day. Brian Kiel and Seana McPherson were opposed.
"You're not losing the balanced calendar, special projects or staff," Schumacher said. "Your school of choice with all the things you have will be exactly the same, except for the difference in the time schedule."
Nine other elementary schools will have longer days starting next fall, while John Jay Elementary -- which already had a longer day than other elementary schools -- will stay the same.
Under Fessler's plan, all elementary schools will have six-hour, 50-minute days, and junior high schools will have seven-hour, five-minute days.
But many Ridge parents who spoke during Monday's board meeting asked that Ridge's class time be spared.
"A school of choice is a want. It is a need, and it is why we all entered into the lottery," said Ridge parent Kelly Snoble. "We had the expectation that was what was going to be delivered. I think why most of the parents are so upset is because it seems like it was just brought upon us. There was no warning.
"What is equal is not always equitable."
Ridge parent Al Brodeur said the district should "bring the rest of the schools up to Ridge's standards."
"I've been fighting for this school for so long, and I thought we were OK," he said. "Now I'm up here fighting for it again."
District officials say maintaining Ridge's schedule would cost an extra $280,000 to add seven bus routes and $70,000 in teacher stipends. They proposed a standardization of the school day during recent negotiations over a five-year teachers contract extension, approved April 28 by the board.
Agreeing to lengthen the school day at 12 other district schools -- while keeping Ridge's day as is -- would likely lead to a portion of the contract being renegotiated, Fessler said.
Some parents argued District 59 was in a strong financial position to be able to pay to maintain Ridge's day, but Fessler said the district's finances are vulnerable because of proposed legislation that could limit the district's share of state funding.
Fessler said he supported many of the arguments he heard from Ridge parents, and that if he were a Ridge parent, he would be advocating for his kids in the same way.
But, he said, the decision was "about equity."
"I know students and parents will be upset at me," he said. "We get it's going to be very challenging for our Ridge families."