St. Charles district needs more time to consider school closures
Hoping to determine sustainable attendance boundaries for St. Charles Unit District 303, school board members said they need more time and information to decide on potential elementary school closures.
After hearing from several concerned residents during a special meeting Tuesday night, the school board had its first opportunity to discuss the district's recommendation to close and repurpose Fox Ridge Elementary School and realign attendance boundaries next academic year.
The changes would relocate as many as 700 students districtwide, including roughly 300 from Fox Ridge who would instead attend Norton Creek, Munhall, Anderson or Lincoln schools. Fox Ridge would then be converted into an early childhood center.
Board members agreed that realigning boundaries is necessary to address a disparity in the use of school facilities, several of which are either above capacity or are being underutilized. But with 1,700 empty seats in the district's 12 elementary schools, some members questioned whether closing one school would be enough to adequately balance student distribution and class sizes.
In turn, board member Carolyn Waibel asked the district to look into the feasibility of also closing a second school: Lincoln Elementary.
The board agreed to consider all possible options after administrators bring forth more information next month. However, board member James Gaffney said he believes the district should determine its next steps this spring.
"I don't want to wait another year to make a decision either way," he said. "We as a board have a decision to make."
Many Fox Ridge parents, including Mike Johnson, urged the district to reconsider closing the school, saying it adds value to the surrounding neighborhoods. Other residents said they worry that moving schools would affect the well-being of their children.
But despite their attendance areas, most residents who addressed the board said the proposal, which was first introduced Jan. 18, seemed rushed and did not include enough community involvement.
"These people right now don't trust you, and they don't trust you because they don't trust the process," said Dan Stellato, a St. Charles alderman representing the district that includes Fox Ridge.
Superintendent Jason Pearson said the administration's proposal takes into account birthrates, projected development and years of community meetings and feedback. The elementary school boundaries were last addressed in 2006-2007, when the district reported a total enrollment of 13,768 students. The number of students districtwide has since dropped by about 1,600 and is expected to continue declining in the next three years.
"This is not something that is ever easy or anything that we choose to do," Board President Kathy Hewell said. "We are just trying to be good stewards for the whole community."