D-11 'family' mulls closure suggestions
News leak publicizes ideas before committee work done

       “It's like a family short of money, looking at priorities, trying to decide what's best.”
        Ivywild Principal Joe Madril said that was the comparison he used in reassuring students at his K-8 school after the news leak last week that a District 11 subcommittee is proposing the closure of three Westside schools, including his.
        He, like Pike Principal Manuel Ramsey and Whittier Principal Marlys Berg, reported a generally calm response from staff and parents at their schools.
       “They've been through this before,” Berg said of her staff, referring to a closure proposal about four years ago that failed to gain school board approval. “They're going to wait and see what happens. They're not as panicky as I thought they'd be.”
       Ramsey told the Westside Pioneer he has heard “some general concern” from his staff “because they believe Pike is providing a good service to the community.” But he stressed a willingness to work with the district to come up with a good plan to meet space needs.
       The leak altered a district plan to keep the considerations by the Long Range School Use (LRSUS) Task Force low key until it reached a final decision on what to recommend to the Board of Education. Otherwise, the public may not have heard about the board-appointed task force until it presented a finalized recommendation to the board March 17.
        This timing was noted by the principals. “Whatever is proposed, it won't be until March 17,” said Madril, who has been at Ivywild for five years. In the meantime, he said, “We're focusing on instruction and preparing kids for life.”
        The subcommittee's closure recommendations must still be considered against those from two other LRSUS subcommittees.
       John Gudvangen, chair of the Capital Improvements Subcommittee, emphasized this point at the Feb. 5 LRSUS Task Force meeting, noting that his group may have some different conclusions in its report (due at the next task force meeting Feb. 12).
       The other subcommittee, Capital Renewal, identified needed improvements in facilities, technology and transportation with its report in January.
       The LRSUS committee members were appointed last year, and given the mission of finding more efficient ways to use district buildings. If a school is closed, a reuse - such as charter or a community building - will be sought; otherwise, it will be sold.
       All three of the targeted Westside buildings are at least 48 years old, but not seen as too ancient to reuse. The newest is Pike (1956), while Ivywild was built in 1916 and Whittier in 1899.
       One candidate to move into a vacated building, according to the subcommittee recommendations, is the Westside's Bijou School, an alternative high school with 135 students. Currently located in an aging structure and four temporary buildings on North Walnut Street, the school could take on more students (there's currently a waiting list) if it had more space, according to Bijou Principal Wayne Hutchinson.
       Even if the school board were to approve school closures, they would not happen for at least a year, and a bond issue would be needed for additions at those schools - Washington, Jackson and Howbert on the Westside - that would be absorbing students from closed schools.
       A big problem the district is facing, as noted by the subcommittee research, is that the number of school-age children in the district is dropping. While plenty of empty seats exist in the southwest, central and south-central schools in the district, it's just the opposite on the east side.
       Along with Ivywild, Pike and Whittier, three other elementaries, elsewhere in the district, are suggested for “reuse.” Conversely, growing areas of the southeast and northeast should each get a new elementary, the subcommittee proposed. The expected result would be annual savings of $700,000 against one-time construction costs of $18 million.
        The news leak resulted from an anonymous media tipster who sent faxes to local media. The faxes included concerns that the closure recommendations targeted lower-income neighborhoods because they are less able to fight back.
        Under district guidelines, Ivywild, Pike and Whitter are Title 1 schools - meaning that 50 percent or more of their students come from families with incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced meals. Ivywild is at 81 percent this year, Pike 78 percent, Whittier 64.5 percent, according to Title 1 Coordinator Holly Hudson.
        Pamela Staley, a long-time Westside school volunteer and member of the LRSUS Task Force and its Utilization Subcommittee, said questions of income never came up during the group's 400 hours of research.
        “It's not about affluent over poor people,” she said. “We didn't even look at paychecks.”
        However, student performance did factor into the committee's thinking, she said, opining that Westside schools suffered from “poor leadership” for a time starting 20 years ago and that, although “we're trying to break out of that cycle,” the previous, damaging influence continues to be felt academically.
       Unlike newer parts of District 11, the typical Westside elementary school enrollment of less than 200 students each reflects a long-ago philosophy of small, neighborhood schools. Contemporary thinking is reflected in the Capital Improvements Subcommittee recommendation that elementary schools should have between 300 and 600 students.
        While not criticizing the recommendations, the principals showed pride in their schools.
        “Ivywild has a nice community feel,” Madril said, crediting the neighborhood association, the Ivywild Improvement Society, for helping out at the school.
       “On the surface, it may appear that closing is good financially, but I believe community schools add a great value to the community that may outweigh financial issues,” said Ramsey, who is in his first year at Pike.
        Berg, an interim principal (15 years with the district) who was assigned to Whittier at the start of this semester, said she is recommending to her school's parents that they “go to the meetings and say that they want their small schools.”

Westside Pioneer article