Dist. 303 parents push for vote on middle school plan
Plans to close Haines Middle School aren't final, but St. Charles residents are organizing a petition to force voter approval.
District 303 officials hosted a forum Thursday at Haines. The closure necessitates enlarging and enhancing Wredling and Thompson middle schools. Wredling would get a larger cafeteria and 10 upgraded STEM labs in the part of the plan already approved by the school board. Thompson would get similar improvements plus 31 new classrooms, another gymnasium, a new fitness room and air conditioning.
The work will cost $50 million, $15 million of which would come from the sale of working cash bonds. The community can force the school board to ask voter permission to sell those bonds by getting 4,651 voters registered in the district to sign a petition. Haines parent Kristy Perry said that won't be a problem.
"People are already lined up to sign it," she said.
Perry is one of several members of the Haines community who think the school board's plan will leave them with a subpar middle school and students cheated by two years of construction chaos. Thompson students will have to share space and resources at Haines, including the reopening of some mobile classrooms, during the construction. Once the work is complete, Haines will close and the district will redraw the attendance boundaries of Thompson and Wredling. Perry sees a lot of students getting lost in that shuffle and the possibility of more problems to come at a retrofitted Thompson.
"If we Band-Aid it now, what's going to happen five or six years from now?" Perry said. "Let's do this right the first time."
Susan Keldani agrees. As the Haines PTO president and mother of seventh-grade triplets, she said residents deserve the option to vote for a new middle school. The district should leave the middle schools alone until that new school is ready. Then Thompson and Haines students can transition into the new building together. That would allow for minimal disruption to academics and extracurriculars, Keldani said.
"People move to live in St. Charles because of our schools and their ratings," Keldani said. "Building a new school is keeping your home values high. If you lay that out there, any homeowner will think twice (about voting down a referendum)."
The school board decided against asking voters about a new middle school or money to revamp the existing schools when a recent survey suggested residents would not support any tax increase. The support inched up a bit when those polled learned the retirement of a significant amount of bond debt will drop the tax bill of a $300,000 homeowner by about $600 in a couple years. But the board remained skeptical of putting a question on the April ballot. School board members will be up for re-election on that same ballot.
Keldani doubts the validity and quality of the poll. She believes responses would change now that residents know about the nonreferendum plan.
"We just want consideration to educate the public, get the plan and all its details out, and then see what the citizens of the community decide," Keldani said.
Keldani and Perry expressed disappointment about not having a chance to share these thoughts at Thursday's meeting. School board members Kathy Hewell and Jim Gaffney attended the meeting but did not take direct questions. Hewell and Gaffney did not respond to interview requests Friday.
There are community forums Oct. 24 at Wredling and Oct. 25 at Thompson. The school board will take a final vote on the Thompson plans and the bonds issue Nov. 14.