Geneva School District 304 will hold a special meeting July 9 to deal with a kindergarten enrollment bubble at Mill Creek and Williamsburg elementary schools that could push classroom sizes as high as 30 students this fall.
Board members tabled an agenda item Monday that included a staff recommendation to add one kindergarten section—and the appropriate teaching staff—to each elementary school.
School Board members said they needed more information in order to make a decision and asked staff members to look into alternative short-term solutions, including busing students to other elementary schools.
School Board member Matt Henry suggested that busing some Mill Creek kindergarten students to Fabyan Elementary might be a "no-brainer" solution, since some Mill Creek families live almost as close to Fabyan as to Mill Creek Elementary. Similarly, he said, some Williamsburg kindergarten students live relatively close to Western Avenue School.
Board President Mark Grosso noted that is about a mile away from .
"I can appreciate everyone’s concern about the class sizes at Mill Creek," Grosso said. "But I’d like to see us look at the available resources we have before we hire additional personnel."
Mill Creek parents spoke passionately in favor of the staff proposal to add teachers, reduce class sizes and avoid busing students to other schools.
"No matter what the enrollment issue is, a single family should not be segregated from their immediate neighbors," Dan Solzman told the board in the first public comments session.
"I don’t want to have my son or others lost in a room of 27 students," said Melissa Swierczewski. "I realize there is a budget and that the state is not helpful. (But) any rational taxpayer would applaud that third section at Mill Creek."
Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Craig Collins said enrollment projections show class sizes at Mill Creek at 27 and 28 students. Williamsburg's three sections would be at 26, 26 and 25 students. Those numbers probably are on the low end, he said.
"If the past is any guide, we are likely to increase kindergarten enrollment at each school over the next nine weeks, pushing class size at the kindergarten level to near 30 students per classroom," Collins said in a memo to Superintendent Kent Mutchler.
Collins said the Catch 22 about postponing a vote is that parents need to know where their kids will be—and whether they are in a morning or afternoon session—in order to make plans for day care and transportation. The board generally makes its decision in the last week of June so that parents can be informed by the first week in July.
"To the extent that we can give them this information early, we try to do that," he said.
But board members stood their ground, saying they would like to know the kindergarten enrollment numbers at other district schools, as well as the cost of busing or other alternatives before agreeing to add staff.
"We have to be able to speak to the cost," board member Bill Wilson said. "If it’s moving from Fabyan to Mill Creek, what is that plan going to look like? We need to have a couple plans in place and be able to tell people this is what’s going to happen."
School Board members agreed that it's time to start looking at redistricting as a long-term solution to the elementary-school enrollment issue. However, they also acknowledged that process takes time.
"I think the last time we did a boundary study was five or six years ago," Wilson said "It might be time to do a gut check. Are those boundaries right or do we need to change those boundaries? I think we need to look at that and see if it’s time to run that study."
But if the board is planning to change school boundaries, another problem arises—the potential disruption of students, who might have to change schools more than once.
"If it’s something we all acknowledge, I would be disinclined to do much moving this year," said School Board Vice President Kelly Nowak. "I’m perfectly happy to wait and look at the numbers. I’m inclined to go ahead and approve this knowing it’s not a final recommendation. I don’t want to move kids for a short-term solution. That’s just a waste of everybody’s time."
Mill Creek parents at the meeting agreed.
"If you rezone again, my kids would be making three transitions in three years," Stacie Solzman said. "I am asking, for the next year at least, to minimize the movement of students. ... If you’re just going to move my kids and rezone in a year, at that age, you have a problem."
"I don’t think slapping on a Band-Aid … is the right solution for our children," Swierczewski said. "Why do we have boundaries if we’re just going to ignore them?"
Patrick Murphy, a former school superintendent in Berwyn, now a Geneva resident, said it's unfair to teachers, students and parents to have one school with 28 kids in a kindergarten class and another with 17. He said it is also unfair to ask the School Board to make a decision without enrollment numbers in front of them.
"I think the board can’t make a financial decision on the whim of angry parents," he said. "It’s not fair to the taxpayers to add expenses to do that. I think with a little smarter administration … you can avoid these kinds of problems at the last minute."