By Kalen Ponche
St. Charles Board of Education members Thursday pushed off a decision on reopening Blackhurst Elementary School.
Superintendent Randy Charles had presented nine ways the district could accommodate growth in elementary enrollment to the community and the board in February. Several of the options included reopening Blackhurst Elementary, one of two elementary schools that was closed in 2007 because of falling enrollment.
On Thursday, Charles suggested the board narrow the nine options to three: reopen Blackhurst as a regular elementary school, reopen Blackhurst as an early childhood center to include kindergarten or reopen Blackhurst as a “school of choice,” which would function like a magnet school.
Charles said he hopes the board will select a plan in May so staff members can implement it in time for the 2011-12 school year.
But board members said they weren’t ready to eliminate any of the nine options yet. Board member Wayne Oetting said he thought the public needed to know the cost for each choice.
“If one saves you $1.2 million, that’s altogether different how the public would see that,” he said. “I don’t think myself I’ve seen near enough information. You’re talking about next month, that’s far too early in my opinion.”
During the community meetings in February, Charles explained reopening Blackhurst would cost about $500,000 in one-time expenses and $500,000 in ongoing expenses. He said the district might be able to save money on capital projects next year and could use that money to reopen the school. But state funding is expected to decrease next year, which means the district could face a $3.2 million deficit.
Board president Linda Schultz asked Charles to present a cost analysis for each option during a special board meeting set for May 10.
“If we’re going to make changes, there’s a cost associated with it,” Schultz said. “We need to look hard at can we afford a $500,000 additional cost?”
In a survey the district conducted, parents, teachers and community members voiced overwhelming support for reopening Blackhurst as an elementary school. About 730 parents, 160 teachers or staff members, and 40 community members responded to the survey and at least 60 percent of each group said that option was a “good” or “very good” idea.
Some parents said they thought the district should not have closed Blackhurst in the first place. Other parents don’t want to see their children forced to switch schools again. The district redrew boundary lines after Blackhurst and Benton Elementary Schools were closed.
Charles said he doesn’t recommend the board reopen Blackhurst as a K-12 alternative school, which is one option, because it wouldn’t free up enough space in the other elementary schools. He also said it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to construct additions to other school buildings with Blackhurst sitting vacant.
Here’s a condensed look at the results of the survey on how the school district should cope with growing enrollment. The district divided the responses of parents, teachers and community members.
1. Reopen Blackhurst as a regular school. More than 60 percent of all three groups thought this was a “good” or “very good” idea.
2. Reopen Blackhurst as a “school of choice” that would focus on one subject. Students would have to apply to attend. Thirty-eight percent of parents thought this was a “bad” or “very bad” idea; 52 percent of parents and community members thought this was “bad” or “very bad.”
3. Reopen Blackhurst as an early childhood center that would include kindergarten. At least 39 percent of parents and community members thought this was a “bad” or “very bad” idea, but 51 percent of teachers thought this was a “good” or “very good” idea.
4. Reopen Blackhurst as a K-12 alternative school for “at-risk” kids. At least 40 percent of parents and community members thought this was a “bad” or “very bad” idea. Teachers were split on the suggestion with 38 percent calling it “bad” or “very bad” and 38 percent calling it “good” or “very good.”
5. Combine high schools and middle schools to have one district high school and one district middle school. At least 73 percent of all three groups thought this was a “bad” or “very bad” idea.
6. Construct additions to middle schools. At least 50 percent of teachers and community members thought this was “bad” or “very bad.” About 36 percent of parents thought this was “good” or “very good.”
7. Restructure elementary schools into K-2 and 3-4 centers. At least 61 percent of all three groups thought this idea was “bad” or “very bad.”
8. Move students from Lincoln Elementary School into Blackhurst Elementary School, which is bigger, and redraw boundary lines. At least 45 percent of parents and community members thought this was a “bad” or “very bad” idea. Teachers were split with 39 percent saying it was a “bad” or “very bad” idea and 28 percent saying it was “good” or “very good.”
9. Do nothing, and allow class sizes to go up. At least 79 percent of each group thought this was a “bad” or “very bad” idea.