U-46: Boundary changes saved money, reduced buses

Officials in Elgin Area School District U-46 put minorities in mobile classrooms even though there were thousands of empty seats in schools across the district. That is what attorneys for families suing the district tried to show Tuesday, the second day of a federal trial over claims U-46 discriminated against black and Hispanic students.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of five black and Hispanic families in 2005 alleges U-46 sent minorities to inferior schools; provided inadequate bilingual services; and denied them access to gifted programs.

This week and next week, attorneys will address claims minorities were sent to older, overcrowded schools. Dates have not been set for later phases of the trial.

On Tuesday, plaintiffs’ attorneys focused on documents in which the U-46 school board asserted to the Kane County Regional Office of Education that the district was out of space and needed mobile classrooms — and had attempted other alternatives, including boundary changes, to combat overcrowding.

“Were you aware that there were thousands of empty elementary seats in the district?” plaintiffs’ attorney Stewart Weltman asked former school board President Karen Carney.

“No,” Carney said.

“Did it concern you?” said Weltman.

“I didn’t ask (about the mobiles),” Carney said.

“You represented to the state that you had addressed all options,” Weltman said.

“Yes,” Carney said.

“And by addressing that, you meant that you weren’t going to do it?” Weltman said.

“Yes,” Carney responded.

While on the witness stand, Carney reiterated the district’s philosophy of sending students to their neighborhood schools.

“It was very important to us to have parental involvement,” Carney said, adding later, “Busing them across the district to an empty space ... would be totally irresponsible for the board of education to do.”

Current board President Ken Kaczynski’s testimony proceeded along similar lines.

Under cross-examination, longtime U-46 Director of Transportation Andy Martin offered a further glimpse at the district’s defense.

Asked about the 2004 school boundary changes that sparked the lawsuit, Martin said, “It allowed us to provide service to children more efficiently.” He continued, “We were able to transport more children in that school year for less money, more efficiently.”

Although testimony gained steam after a slow start on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman at times expressed impatience at delays in conducting the trial.

Testimony ended Tuesday around 3:30 p.m. — one hour earlier than had been allotted. Plaintiffs’ lawyers said that was because of scheduling issues with witnesses from the district.

“I don’t want to waste time like this,” Gettleman said.

Although the first phase of trial was only slated to last through Thursday, it now appears U-46 will not begin to present its case until next week. Testimony resumes Wednesday, with Superintendent Jose Torres expected to take the stand.