Only Fox Ridge to be considered in potential St. Charles school closures
A proposal to close and repurpose only Fox Ridge Elementary School, rather than two schools, will be considered next month, though some St. Charles Unit District 303 board members say they're still on the fence about what's best for the district's future.
At the request of the board, administrators presented a secondary plan Tuesday night to close two schools -- Fox Ridge and Lincoln -- and realign attendance boundaries. The proposal would have relocated as many as 950 students, converted the Fox Ridge building on Tyler Road into an early childhood center, and turned Lincoln into a college and career center in the city's downtown.
The board agreed to take the Lincoln option off the table, saying it would give the district less flexibility and uproot more students than the administration's initial proposal to close and repurpose only Fox Ridge. That plan, presented last month, also includes realigning boundaries and relocating about 700 students districtwide.
Still, some board members said they worried the proposed boundary changes wouldn't allow the district to maintain its walkable neighborhood schools. Board member Carolyn Waibel said she still doesn't believe she has enough time, information or alternate options to make an informed decision.
"We have a fiduciary duty and academic responsibility to create plans for a successful and equal district for our current enrollment," she said. "We also have a responsibility to communicate that plan. I feel like we haven't done that."
Both proposals were met with opposition by Lincoln and Fox Ridge families, hundreds of whom filled the gymnasium at Wredling Middle School during the special meeting. Several community members wore shirts, held signs or addressed the board in support of their schools.
Jon and Rachel Hoag, who have three children at Fox Ridge, said the district should develop a long-term, comprehensive plan before deciding which schools to close, if any. Other parents made similar recommendations to develop committees or reevaluate demographic data.
"We agree we need to evolve, but not blindly so," Jon Hoag said. "We don't want a decision of this magnitude to be made in haste."
Information about the feasibility of closing two schools was requested after board members questioned whether closing only one school would be enough to balance student distribution and class sizes. The district is reporting an estimated 1,700 empty seats in its 12 elementary schools.
If two schools were to close, the district's overall elementary school capacity would be at its optimal level of 80 to 90 percent through 2021, projections show. But board President Kathy Hewell said she worries that would leave little room for growth, whereas some schools would still have extra space if only Fox Ridge closed.
"I think what we're losing with (the second proposal) is one criteria the district set forth to have some flexibility," she said. "We'd be starting to really dig into that."
The Fox Ridge proposal would allow the district to hire up to 10 more teachers in an attempt to reduce class sizes, Hewell said. The school board is expected to vote on the proposal March 12.