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112 Citizens Face Less Schools or More Taxes

Next month’s meetings will give citizens a change to weigh in on alternatives for North Shore School District 112’s future.

Will Edgewood Middle School be one of the survivors if North Shore School District 112 decides to operate with fewer buildings. Photo courtesy of North Shore School District 112.
Will Edgewood Middle School be one of the survivors if North Shore School District 112 decides to operate with fewer buildings. Photo courtesy of North Shore School District 112.

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.

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Walter White January 17, 2014 at 07:36 PM
Cue Tripp to tell me that won't be possible.
Stu Pidasso January 18, 2014 at 12:55 AM
Samantha, that is what I like about you! No elected official can appease 100% of the people 100% of the time. It's just not realistic. You are fair and REASONABLE. That's why I voted for you;)
Samantha Stolberg January 18, 2014 at 01:11 AM
Tripp Hainsfurther and the rest of the crew at the SCFFAC are working hard and have donated a lot of their time to the Community. I'm really anxious to hear what they've come up with so far.... And thanks for your support Stu... :)
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther January 20, 2014 at 11:43 AM
Walter, I can't tell you if that's possible yet, because there is no plan. We don't know if schools will consolidate or which ones would close if they did. We don't know how many children will attend a given school. We don't know what shape the existing buildings are in. We don't have community input on these items or things like: Should all school buildings have sprinklers? Should they be handicapped accessible? Should they have air conditioning? Should every building support every program the district offers? These are community discussions. I agree with Sam that we should look at all options to avoid or minimize the size of any referendum, What the community will accept in doing that is the discussion the District is looking to have. Beyond that, there is a team of professionals that need to be hired in order to bring some cost reality to the discussion. The District hasn't even begun that process.
Stu Pidasso January 20, 2014 at 01:41 PM
"Beyond that, there is a team of professionals that need to be hired in order to bring some cost reality to the discussion." Oh No , "team of professionals" we're doomed.......

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