Highland Park citizens may have to choose between less elementary and middle schools for children in North Shore School District 112 or higher taxes to maintain the existing buildings, according to a member of the Superintendent’s Citizen Finance and Facilities Advisory Committee.
“From my understanding consolidating schools will save money because it will optimize the number of students in each classroom and reduce staffing costs,” Walter “Trip” Hainsfurther, a committee member, said.
That is the essence of discussions which will take place when the committee presents its findings to the citizenry in a series of six meetings next month. The three broad subjects will be whether to operate the District’s buildings without seeking additional revenue, using the existing structures with a bond issue for improvements and sell bonds to renovate and maintain fewer buildings. There will also be an online survey.
Hainsfurther also believes maintaining the current model requires significant additional revenue. “I don’t see how we can maintain the status quo (keeping all existing schools open) without a significant tax levy increase,” he said.
At this point the District operates eight elementary schools for students in kindergarten through fifth grades and three middle schools for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. There are approximately 4,400 students in the schools.
Districts of 112’s size would normally operate with seven schools, according to Superintendent David Behlow. He will make a recommendation to the Board of Education after further extensive study but stresses the decision will come from the community.
“My recommendation will come from (the committee), input from community meetings and the survey that everyone can take,” Behlow said. His respect for the committee members and the community as a whole is very strong.
One of the problems with the existing model is some schools have as few as 13 students in a classroom while others have as many as 27, according to Hainsfurther. The remedy requires a change in the number of buildings and boundary lines.
“You have an inequity in class size that leads to ineffective staffing,” Hainsfurther said. “If you can optimize classroom size you can reduce your staffing needs.”
Expect for Oak Terrace Elementary School, the average age of the buildings is 74. Some have complained the problem is been growing for years. It is one Behlow began to tackle when he arrived five years ago. A master plan was adopted by the Board in 2010 and the committee’s recommendation is one of the final pieces.
Though Behlow will make a recommendation to the Board, he retires June 20. The execution will be left to his successor who may be named this month. “I anticipate we will have a lot of discussion of transition issues including this one,” he said.
The meetings are scheduled 9:30 a.m. Feb. 13, 9 p.m. Feb. 19, 9:30 a.m. Feb. 22, 9 p.m. Feb. 26 and 9 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Highland Park Country Club as well as 4 p.m. March 2 at Oak Terrace. The first five meetings will be conducted in English with Spanish translation available while the Oak Terrace gathering will be in Spanish only.
The District also explains things on its video which is part of this story.