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QuickStory: School Board Calls Special Meeting to Deal With Kindergarten Enrollment Bubble

The Geneva School District 304 Board of Education is considering busing as an option to avoid adding staff at Mill Creek and Williamsburg elementary schools.

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."

Stacie June 27, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Rhonda, I'm wondering if any of the neighborhoods you moved into, bussed your kids out of the neighborhood to go to a different school for a year and then moved them back to your home school the following year? That would mean three new schools in three years for your kids!
Elaine Lane June 27, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Stacie, parenting IS difficult! It's the most difficult job you'll ever have. Trust me, putting on a "happy" face is the EASIEST thing you'll have to do once they become teenagers.
Elaine Lane June 27, 2012 at 02:01 PM
No, Stacie, they didn't change schools 3 times in 3 years in the same neighborhood, but they DID attend two different schools IN THE SAME YEAR in different cities and in different states and in different sections of the country FOUR times.
Elaine Lane June 27, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Correction, Stacie, if your child starts school in Mill Creek, then changes to Fabyan for a year, then goes back to Mill Creek -- that's two "new" schools, not three, because they're returning to a school they already know.
Stacie June 27, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Sorry, Rhonda. Maybe you should have been given all the facts before commenting on my situation. We just moved here with our Kindergartener and Second Grader. Both of my students will be forced to attend Fabyan next year and then return to Mill Creek the following year. That makes three schools in three years. The other point I would like to make is that this is a choice being dictated to me, not one that I willfully chose for my children. So I don't know if that makes me ahead if that is the game we are playing. I will also be paying off that debt next year that everyone is screaming about that my children didn't reap the benefits from. Your Welcome! I'm guessing you don't have a Kindergarten student who is affected by this. I'm also assuming you lived in Geneva during the time this debt was incurred and you weren't doing much screaming then. Now you are doing the screaming because you don't want to pay the taxes anymore, but you want us to pay the taxes to pay off your debt. In the same instance, you want my kids to be bused out of their neighborhood so this can happen. Welcome to Geneva!!!!
dan June 27, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Sorry, my realtor comment may not have been clear. I did not say a realtor guaranteed that my kids would go to a certain school. My realtor is great. The point I was trying to make was that everyone who has kids considers the location of their home to an elementary school. That is why boundaries are drawn.
Bob McQuillan June 27, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Sabine I agree with that request, it makes all the sense in the world. A kindergarten child doesn't know what is or is not a large class size. With a good teacher and 1 or 2 assistants, their experience can be fantastic. This is a half-day program for one year. Three "teachers" in the room would bring the ratio down to 10:1. Maybe there could be a system where parents would volunteer to help the teacher and assistant. With 180 days of school and 30 kids in a class that would mean each parent needs to spend 6 half days in the classroom each year. Many parents would jump at that opportunity. This is a tough situation but thinking outside the box could turn this into a great opportunity for everyone involved.
Bob McQuillan June 27, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Stacie I didn't mean to imply that you are throwing a hissy fit. Those that have spoken at the board meetings have handled themselves extremely well during a difficult period for them and their kids. My comment about "hissy fit" which I knew everyone would key in on, was about the boundary change discussion. I have seen it happen everywhere we have lived. Parents don't want their children to move but expect that others should move. Believe me, and I think board members will agree, making boundary changes is one of the most difficult things that any school district will live through.. It needs to be done and I agree that no movement should be done this year if a boundary study is planned for this school year.
Bob McQuillan June 27, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I live in Randall Square so I have the FACTS on that move. It was not 8 years ago, it was during the most recent boundary change. The Randall Square rep on the committee went through hell because she agreed to the move. I was at a committee meeting when Tim Moran had to slam the gravel down and tell the parents to shut up because they were yelling over each other. Read my comments, I don't agree with "hand-plucking" new residents out of the "neighborhood" school. The 15-17 number came from a comment I made about sending children to a private school. From my previous comment: "You are not "entitled" to a kindergarten classroom that has 15-17 kids unless you send your kids to a private school." Please reread my comments before you respond.
Betty Oetting June 27, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Some years ago the south Mill Creek kids started out at Mill Creek Elementary, then were moved to Western Avenue, then moved to Fabyan. They all turned out just fine.
Elaine Lane June 27, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I'm sorry, Stacie, that you think we're playing a "game"; you asked me a question and I answered it. I do not envy your situation. Been there, done that, and I'm just saying our children are more resilient than we realize. The school transfers my children made were dictated also by my husband's career, not our choices. As far as the math about 3 schools in 3 years, that is correct. However, in your first comment you said "3 NEW schools in 3 years," which is what my correction was referring to.
Betty Oetting June 27, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Also, when we moved here in 2006, the people moving into north Mill Creek were told the Mill Creek was full, and a separate bus went around and picked up those kids and brought them to Western. That didn't involve us but maybe someone could speak to that experience?
dan June 27, 2012 at 03:02 PM
LETS TALK MONEY: Add up the cost of a couple school buses to pull a few kids away from the 2 over populated kindergarten classes and send them to a different school. Add the cost of leasing at least 2 more buses, the cost of maintenance, cost of fuel, cost of equipping it with a camera system, the cost of a driver. How much more does it cost to hire 1 teacher who teaches 2 sessions of half-day kindergarten for a year? The people who comment about how their kids move city to city and switch schools all the time, sounds like it was their choice to do so. The district is not rezoning and sending a SECTION of kids to a further away school. I understand and accept that is a difficult decision that has to be made from time to time. What I have an issue with is the following. ONE OF THE PROPOSALS WILL HAVE MY ONE CHILD WHO LIVES A COUPLE BLOCKS FROM THE SCHOOL, NO ONE ELSE AROUND US, BUSED TO A FURTHER AWAY SCHOOL. Are there really people out there who think is acceptable?
Bob McQuillan June 27, 2012 at 03:57 PM
The 2005-2006 school year was not 8 years ago
Elaine Lane June 27, 2012 at 04:04 PM
If you're speaking about me, dan, please reread my comments. Those moves were dictated by my husband's career, not our choices.
Elaine Lane June 27, 2012 at 04:07 PM
You're right, Betty, I had forgotten about that. Yep, all those students meet up again in middle school and high school anyway, and friendships turn on a dime during those years!
Sabine Falco June 27, 2012 at 04:21 PM
The only time a career isn't a choice is during a draft. I believe the last draft was Vietnam.
Elaine Lane June 27, 2012 at 04:26 PM
OMG, are you for real????
Bob Johnson June 27, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I have an idea. You can show up at a classroom one morning and become a "teacher" and we'll send someone to your office to do your "profession." I'm assuming no education or experience is required to do what you do. It is laughable and somewhat offensive that any adult in a classroom is a "teacher." It is this kind of thinking that marginalizes the role of educators (with degrees and certifications) in our culture.
dan June 27, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Sabine... I was going to go into detailed response to Rhonda about how my wife & I made a CHOICE and a huge sacrifice for one of us to quit our job and stay home with our kids as infants and toddlers. I was going to post about how I made a CHOICE to pass up a relocation job and other jobs with travel involved to avoid moving our kids constantly. I think you summed it up better. Thanks
Noel G. Rooks June 28, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I think rezoning is the answer. Obviously the numbers from the last survey didn't pan out, whether by deceit (as some claim) or just a change in circumstance (Crossings of La Fox never got built, etc.). Regardless, sending a select group of kids elsewhere for a year doesn't fix the issue. In today's NCLB world, Kindergarten isn't "milk and cookies" as some older folks remember, it is basically first grade, with reading, writing and math. 304 does a whole lot in those 2.5 hours, my youngest just completed kindergarten and I am impressed as to what he learned. Can the teacher do that with 28 in a class? Even with an aide? I don't know. 304 is obviously going through some growing pains here. I think the best solution is to implement the 2 half time positions, and do a boundary review in 2012-2013. It's too late to do one for this year, and bussing select kids makes no sense. We built the new school based on certain asumptions, they haven't held true, now we have to fix it. While my family isn't directly affected by this latest issue, in the 6 years we have lived here, our neighborhood has been zoned to 3 different schools. I can appreciate that kids are resilient, switching schools when moving is one thing, but switching schools while living in the same house is counterintuitive at best.
Elaine Lane June 28, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Dan and Sabine: The original comment I posted about childrens' abilities to adapt has apparently escaped you. I know you don't want to hear it because your kids are your babies. I felt the same way about my kids and still do. However, you've taken a different path about my comments that you know nothing about and are judging me for it. It's too frustrating working with amateurs, so have a good day. Over and out.
G.Ryan June 29, 2012 at 03:10 AM
With what funds can 2 half time positions be instituted? We are 321 MILLION in DEBT. St. Charles School District has a procedure in place if the population exceeds the contractual agreement and that is the child will be relocated to another school. Throwing money at every issue to solve a problem always seem to be the answer here in Geneva. Please remember there are no FUNDS=no money that is the reality and is not an option.
Bob McQuillan June 29, 2012 at 05:53 AM
The Settlements of LaFox did not come into play when the decision was made to build Fabyan Elementary. Fabyan was for the build out of Mill Creek. Settlements of LaFox was going to have their own "neighborhood school." It was stated at the board meeting that these sections already have a teacher and an aide. Many of the recently hired aides are certified teachers, so in reality you have two teachers not one. The administration needs to show the enrollment of every section in every school and if there is an aide or not in the classroom. Because of daycare, kindergarten has clearly changed from milk & cookies to a somewhat learning experience. But it still isn't 1st grade. If the children are able and willing to learn in kindergarten, 2 people (possibly 2 certified teachers) in a classroom of 28 - 30 should be enough. Add some parent help on a volunteer basis and these children should be ready for 1st grade. As I told my son years ago when he wasn't selected for a travel soccer team, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you'll be just fine. If a 5 year old is in a kindergarten class of 28 - 30 kids it will not be the worst thing that ever happens to them and will not destroy the rest of their school experience. Unless of course the parent makes it their worst experience. The board seems to have grasped that we are in tough financial times, the administration needs to think outside the box instead of increasing expenses for a one year period.
Geneva resident July 03, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Agreed!
Geneva resident July 03, 2012 at 01:41 AM
I agree 100%! My upcoming kindergartener would be affected by this. And we're talking about adding a half of a day of a teacher. Ridiculous!
Geneva resident July 03, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Bob McQuillan: I live in Randall Square as well and have a kindergartener enrolled at Willaimsburg for the fall. So happy to hear that you aren't for plucking students out of neighborhoods and sending them to different schools. However, I received a letter in the mail asking if I would be willing to bus my child to Heartland or Western. They are asking for volunteers. All because they don't want to add back in a fourth ( part time teacher) class, which they've had for years past until enrollment was down last year. And they are scared to spend a dime because of your taxFacts group. Parents are more than concerned in this neighborhood and we are going to take a stand. Would you like to come over on the first morning of school, and explain to my five year old why he can't get on the bus with his friends and neighbors? Would you like to explain to him why he has to get on a bus alone and attend a school he's never stepped foot into with teachers he's never met? I was told he is high on that list because he doesn't have older siblings at Williamsburg. Great work, taxFacts!
Martina Natoma July 03, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Interesting that we hand out the equivalent of two teachers salaries (150k last I looked) to people just before they retire (to boost their unfunded pension) and yet we haggle over the cost of hiring a few teachers to reduce class size. There is more than enough money coming into Geneva 304 to promote small class sizes, but the spending priorities are those promoted by the self serving teachers union, and not those desired by parents.
Amy H July 03, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Martina, We're not even talking about hiring new bodies. This issue would require having two kindergarten teachers (one at Mill Creek and one at Willaimsburg) work a full day instead of half of a day.
John Doe July 05, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Well Said, Geneva Resident and Amy H. This essentially alienates children at a crucial age and puts an unfair burden on families.

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