Second opinion
D-11 task force looks for consensus after favorable report on neighborhood schools

       A week after a District 11 volunteer subcommittee suggested closing six smaller schools - including three on the Westside - another subcommittee filed its report Feb. 12, saying in essence that smaller schools are worth keeping.
        Now the task force they're part of has the unenviable job of trying to develop a joint recommendation for the Board of Education by March 31.
       “The only way we're going to achieve a consensus is everyone has to give some,” said Ken Carlsen, chair of the Long Range School Use Study (LRSUS) Task Force. At the same time, he added, he's also prepared for the kind of split that would require him to cast a tie-breaking vote. He declined to say what that vote would be.
       The effort is scheduled to begin Feb. 26, when the task force meets at 5:30 p.m. at 5240 Geiger Blvd. The meetings are open to the public, but citizen input is not expected to be sought until the issue gets before the school board.
        The report presented by the Capital Improvements Subcommittee includes the statement, “Public schools are witnessing a return to neighborhood schools, dismissing the notion that bigger is better, and favoring a deconsolidation to smaller, community centered schools.”
       The report the previous week, from the task force's Utilization Subcommittee, had pointed to dropping Westside enrollment numbers and suggested closing Pike, Whittier and Ivywild schools and merging their students into nearby schools. A bond issue was foreseen for additions at the merge-in schools, as well as to build two new schools in growing areas on the east side of town.
       The Capital Improvements no-closure stance was tempered by a caution from its chair, John Gundvangen. “We've made it very clear that we value neighborhood schools, but we also value accountability,” he told the Feb. 12 meeting of the task force.
       This point was underlined by Westsider Pamela Staley, a member of the Utilization Subcommittee and the task force as a whole, who observed that she as a volunteer has “fought for smaller schools, but they are the worst performing schools we have.”
       This brought a rebuttal from a Capital Improvements member, who said that such schools tend to be in lower-income areas, which typically have transient families and less parental involvement. Larger schools for such students would worsen their problems by giving them less teacher support, the member said.
       In its study, the Capital Improvement Subcommittee said “future trends” call for structural changes to buildings, including “space for small groups and tutoring” and “deconslidation of larger schools to smaller, community-centered schools.” Still, its definition of “small” for an elementary school - 250-300 students - was only 50 less than the Utilization Subcommittee's estimate. Most Westside schools have considerably fewer students than that.
       The date for the LRSUS Task Force's recommendation had been March 17, but was moved back to March 31 to give the group more time. Carlsen said he did not know how many meetings would be needed to reach a consensus, but “We'll do whatever it takes.”

Westside Pioneer Article