Two new schools in Palatine District 15's future?
In a move that school officials say could help pave the way for full-day kindergarten and reduce busing costs, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 is considering building two new schools and closing the district's oldest school.
It would mean an overhaul of school attendance boundaries and bus schedules, but only if voters approve the plan through a referendum.
A district facilities plan committee consisting of parents, community members, professional consultants and district representatives, including Superintendent Scott Thompson, is recommending the plan.
Committee members are calling for a new middle school to serve students in grades 6-8 on a 40-acre property the district owns off Ela Road in Inverness and a K-5 elementary school in the district's northeast corner. The latter school would serve about 1,200 students, the committee said.
Thompson says District 15 has not secured a location for the proposed elementary school, but officials are "actively looking."
Some residents have cited concerns that an elementary school on the northeast side would section off students in the area -- where a high percentage of the district's low-income and immigrant families live -- from the rest of the school district.
"Before proceeding with this plan, you should take a look at the demographics of the area," Scott Boucher wrote in a letter read by his daughter, Stephanie Boucher, at an April school board meeting.
The new northeast school could reduce the percentage of minority students in other district schools, Boucher wrote. "This, unfortunately, is the definition of discrimination," he added.
Thompson said that may not be the case.
"No decision has been made on which students will attend the school," he wrote in an email. "Those decisions are a bit down the road."
If plans to build the new schools become a reality, the district would switch from a seventh- and eighth-grade junior high model to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school model.
"If we're going to make a change, now is the time to do that," committee member and District 15 parent Amber Danielczyk said.
Moving sixth-graders to middle school would open more space in elementary schools for full-day kindergarten and help align middle schools with the high schools they feed into, Thompson said.
With the addition of two schools, the district's oldest building, Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School, 101 N. Oak St. in Palatine, would be shuttered. The school currently serves 612 students.
District 15 in March approved borrowing $18.4 million to help fund an estimated $119 million in required safety improvements to be completed this year. Improvements to Sanborn are not on this year's docket, and Thompson says if the new schools proposal is approved, the district would not need to issue bonds later for the $627,000 in improvements the Illinois State Board of Education has approved for the school.
Thompson said it is unclear when the district would ask for voter approval on the project, for which cost estimates are not yet available. The board would have to pass a resolution at the August board meeting for a referendum to be on the November ballot.
District 15 currently has four junior high schools, 20 elementary schools and the Conyers Learning Academy, which serves students with special needs.
The district bought the Ela Road property, located just north of the Bonny Glen subdivision, from Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 for $3.2 million in 1999. District 15 anticipated increasing enrollment would require a fifth middle school, but enrollment stopped rising shortly after that. The deal included small parcels near Palatine High School and Virginia Lake Elementary School.
At the behest of Thompson in 2011, the district attempted to get an educational farming model off the ground on the property. But a drought meant that out of the thousands of pumpkin seeds students planted in the spring, only 72 pumpkins were harvested in the fall, and the experiment wasn't repeated.