In lieu of grade level centers, Dist. 26 goes with centralized kindergarten
Calling it a Band-Aid solution to an overcrowding problem, Mount Prospect-based River Trails Elementary District 26 school board members voted Tuesday to centralize kindergarten classes at one location in lieu of a more controversial move to implement grade level centers.
The goal is to have an expected 200 kindergartners -- who would otherwise be attending classes at Euclid and Indian Grove elementary schools -- come to the new kindergarten center at Park View School for the first day of classes in the fall of 2020.
But first, that will mean an aggressive construction schedule to make an estimated $11.3 million worth of improvements to Park View, which currently houses preschool classes and the district administration office. And the district is also trying to evict a Montessori school that rents space on the west side of the building and whose lease expired June 30.
The district will dip into reserves to help fund the building upgrades at Park View, which will include making space for 10 kindergarten classrooms and three special education preschool rooms, in addition to a new roof, windows, doors and heating and cooling systems. The plan to use $6.5 million worth of reserves, plus borrow another $4.5 million to $5 million by issuing bonds, would likely necessitate the district pursuing another referendum to raise taxes as early as 2022, district officials said.
The district also estimates $700,000 in annual ongoing costs for the kindergarten center to staff it with a principal, secretary, custodian, teacher assistants, and possibly more teachers.
Board members voted 6-1 Tuesday to pursue plans for the kindergarten center, though many said the move was less-than-ideal for the financial implications.
"We need to find a solution even if it looks like a Band-Aid, which it might turn out to be," said Board President Frank Fiarito during the board meeting at River Trails Middle School.
Still, the decision was seen as more palatable to some parents who fought against the other option district officials considered: combining kindergarten through second grade at Euclid and grades 3-5 at Indian Grove into grade level centers.
Parents overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to that possibility at a school board meeting last month, arguing the move would hurt academic performance and do little to solve overcrowding.
Board member Bill Grimpe, the lone "no" vote, said the centralized kindergarten would bounce the district's younger learners from school to school, and make the district unattractive.
Voters rejected a $19 million ballot question in April that would have centralized kindergarten at Park View, but with bigger classrooms and two small building additions. A $27 million request by referendum to build an early learning center also failed in 2015.
"We're going to be out of money soon," said Board Vice President Donna Johnson, after viewing a chart showing a projected decline in reserves.
"We're putting ourselves monetarily at risk," Johnson said told parents gathered for the board meeting. "Please be there for us when we go out for a referendum to raise taxes."
The district filed suit against the Montessori school July 1, and a court hearing is scheduled this week. Superintendent Nancy Wagner said the district's attorneys have expressed confidence the school would vacate within three months.
A preliminary construction schedule calls for work to start in the current Montessori area in January and the rest of the building in the summer, in time for classes to begin in the fall of 2020.