District 59 residents blame low home values on test scores
Angry homeowners criticized Elk Grove Township School District 59 administrators at a meeting Thursday night, complaining students' low test scores are driving down their home values.
Nearly 60 people filled the special school board meeting room as administrators defended their work to improve education in the district. Crowd members argued test scores, which real estate websites such as Zillow use to rank schools, are dropping sale values.
Superintendent Art Fessler said the district should not be characterized solely by standardized test scores, but by how well educators are preparing students for jobs and improving from one year to the next.
"It really is unfortunate that we're being judged by one particular test score," Fessler said.
But crowd members said the district should focus more on performing well on the standardized tests. Many of the attendees live in the area serving Juliette Low Elementary School, which borders Arlington Heights District 25.
"We don't live in an ideal world," said Arlington Heights resident Richard Craig, who lives in District 59. "We live in this world where property values are affected by the test scores."
The district has implemented programs to improve education for low-income students and English language learners, Fessler said.
For example, the district is opening preschool to 4-year-olds who don't qualify for state or federal grant funding but whose families may not be able to afford preschool.
But the district faces an uphill climb compared to its neighboring school district because many students live in poverty, which leads to lower test scores.
Fifty-four percent of District 59 students live in low-income households, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The number is even higher at Juliette Low Elementary, where two in three students are considered low-income. In District 25, about 3 percent of students live in low-income households.
"We are never, ever going to get the same scores that they do," school board member Janice Krinsky said. "This is in fact the reality where we live."
Administrators also disputed residents who claimed home values were as much as 15 percent lower in District 59 than District 25. An analysis of home sales in the past year showed homes sold for about 7.5 percent lower in the district, Associate Superintendent Tom Luedloff said.
The residents disputed the analysis, and the two sides disagreed about the degree to which test scores affect home values.
Homeowners have a wide range of solutions, from rearranging school boundaries to even the number of English language learners to spending millions on building a new location for Juliette Low Elementary School.
Administrators said they will consider ideas, and tried to find common ground with angry crowd members.
"We want kids to do better in terms of student growth," Fessler said. "We want property values high because it attracts other great families."