Dist. 204 boundaries shifting to fix 'educational equity issue' with overcrowding

 
 
Posted1/9/2018 5:40 AM
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  • Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board President Michael Raczak asks administrators about a proposal to change boundaries to relieve crowding at Brookdale, Brooks and Peterson elementary schools. The board approved the new boundaries by a 5-1 vote, and the changes will go into effect for next academic year.

      Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board President Michael Raczak asks administrators about a proposal to change boundaries to relieve crowding at Brookdale, Brooks and Peterson elementary schools. The board approved the new boundaries by a 5-1 vote, and the changes will go into effect for next academic year. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

A districtwide boundary adjustment possibly is in the future for Indian Prairie Unit District 204, but school board members voted Monday on a more imminent change: A proposal to move about 215 students to relieve crowding at three elementary schools.

Despite calling for a broader look at balancing enrollment, board members voted 5-1 to approve the new boundaries, which will go into effect next academic year.

Administrators said the changes, which move students from 15 subdivisions out of Brookdale, Brooks and Peterson elementaries, will help avoid space issues that could have affected art, music, bilingual classes, special education, offices and libraries.

"From my perspective, there's an educational equity issue in overcrowded schools," school board President Mike Raczak said. "An overcrowded school does not provide the same educational opportunities for students as one that is not as crowded."

Next year, students from Pebblewood Estates, Bridgewater Estates, Courtyards Village and Riverbrook West will attend Longwood, Cowlishaw or Watts elementaries instead of Brookdale.

Students from Cambridge Countryside and Country Oaks will switch to Young Elementary from Brooks.

Students from Anderman Acres and English Rows will attend Fry and Kendall elementaries, respectively, instead of Peterson. Students from several subdivisions under construction, including Ashwood Heights, Ashwood Pointe, Enclave at Ashwood, Ashwood Place, The Ponds at Ashwood, Emerson Park and Hidden Creek, also will attend Fry or Kendall.

Five parents who spoke called the boundary change a "Band-Aid" that moves students to fix one problem, yet causes others, such as an additional estimated $300,000 in transportation costs, longer bus rides and new "islands" of students who attend a different school than neighbors.

"I see a game of Tetris," parent Silvia Vega-Mitchell said. "We will continue to play Tetris with our students if we continue to go this route."

Board member Mark Rising voted against the changes because he said the district is overdue for a complete boundary overhaul. Board member Laurie Donahue was absent.

But board member Lori Price said there isn't time to evaluate the entire boundary system before next school year, when Brookdale, Brooks and Peterson are projected to be over capacity.

Raczak said it's best to make a small change now and hold off on redrawing all boundaries until the series of Engage 204 community forums is complete in June.

Jay Strang, chief school business official, cautioned that no boundary change is perfect as enrollment always fluctuates.

"There has been discussion about a 'grand boundary change' and fixing everything at once," Strang said. "Well, there is no real fix to everything. It's never going to be stable."

Administrators designed the boundary changes with goals of moving the fewest students possible, trying not to affect middle or high school attendance, moving subdivisions under construction instead of established ones when possible and balancing demographics of reassigned students based on factors such as income, special needs and English language ability.

The board also considered moving kindergartners or sending fifth-graders to middle schools, adding modular classrooms at the overcrowded schools or constructing additions onto the three affected buildings.

But administrators shot down those ideas as not possible or too costly. Renting modular classrooms could have cost $912,000 and building additions to schools could have run between $2.4 million and $3.5 million per school.

With boundaries approved, the district will begin to notify affected families, assess staffing changes and plan open houses to introduce families to new schools.

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