D112 Weighs Future of Elementary Schools at Community Forum

Community stakeholders consider feasibility of delivering 21st century learning experience to students in aging schools buildings at roundtable discussions.

Community members participate in roundtable discussions at Highland Park Country Club on Wednesday.
Community members participate in roundtable discussions at Highland Park Country Club on Wednesday.

It has often been said that the key to successfully passing a school referendum is by mounting a good advertising campaign. If true, than North Shore School District 112 is off to a great start.

D112 brought together a cross section of stakeholders ranging from parents of current students to empty nesters to discuss the district’s aging school buildings Thursday morning at the Highland Park Country Club.

The roundtable discussions were strategically orchestrated to solicit citizens' feedback on the future of elementary education in Highland Park and Highwood.

The only topic off the table for discussion was the possibility of closing some of the district’s 12 school buildings.

READ: District 112 Sets Discussions on Buildings’ Future

A citizens advisory committee was tasked with taking a deeper look at the district’s sustainability issues in terms of facilities, finances and delivering a 21st century education to students.

The district must now decide if it wants to maintain the buildings in their current state or risk blowing through cash reserves and being placed on a financial watch list over the next five years.

Capital improvements coupled with the rising costs of benefits and staff salaries are outpacing the district’s overall annual operating budget of $70 million.

“It’s expensive to keep up these buildings,” Leslie Alter said, a presenter and member of the citizens advisory committee. “It creates problems in trying to deliver a 21st century education in buildings built for the industrial age. Our children need to be in a building the supports the information age.”

Alter said the district would need to spend $100 million on such basic repairs as windows, roofs, plumbing, wiring and security systems.

“Our buildings don't even have sprinklers, which I was personally freaked out about because of my kids,” Alter said. “The $100 million would not get sprinkler systems into the schools or systems that would ensure better indoor air quality, air conditioning, and ADA compliance, nor would it allow for those flexible or collaborative works spaces students need to achieve 21st century learning goals."

Participants were asked to consider and discuss three options at their respective round tables led by trained facilitators, including:

  • Maintaining the status quo with no new investment;
  • Renovating and maintaining the 12 existing buildings which wouldn’t sustain long term financial stability;
  • Investing in a new model by constructing new buildings.

By kicking the can down the road, the district would continue to compromise class sizes and be forced to make deeper budget cuts by getting rid of art and music programs.

The citizens advisory committee also asked community stakeholders to consider constructing new buildings, which would be less costly to maintain over the long run.

Participants were asked to express their preferences in an electronic poll, including:

  • No new investment
  • Renovate and maintain all 12 buildings
  • Renovate and maintain 8 buildings, including six K-5 schools and two 6-8 middle schools
  • Renovate and maintain six schools, including four K-5 and two 6-8 middle schools
  • Renovate and maintain eight schools or grade centers, including four K-2 schools; two 3-5 intermediate schools; and two 6-8 middle schools.

Elementary schools would accommodate 400-500 students; and middle schools 700-800 students. Students would transition together to new buildings.

Further, the new configurations offer cost savings of $3.5 million (eight buildings); $5.1 million (six buildings); and $3.7 million (eight buildings/grade centers).

With the exception of the first consideration – do nothing – residents can expect a school bond referendum sometime in the near future.

Homeowners can expect to see their property taxes increase by $500 to $650 annually on homes valued at $500,000.

At the end of the presentation, 131 participants favored the third option – renovate eight existing buildings, and closing four others.

Four more community presentations are scheduled through March 2, including a Spanish version.

Community input will be figured into D112 Superintendent Dr. David L. Behlow’s final recommendations, which will be presented to the board of education in the fall.

“We cannot come out here as administrators and say this is what we need to do,” the district’s chief financial officer Moshin Dada said. “We need to know what the community’s viewpoint is.”

For more information on "Your Voice, Our Future," visit the NSSD 112 website.

The Q February 14, 2014 at 05:13 PM
Dam straight.... Who are you today? Next thing your going to tell us you bought a gun.
The Q February 14, 2014 at 05:14 PM
Closing schools is not popular.... I can hear it now "Why you closing my school and not the other one...." Oy vey get over it.
Walter White February 14, 2014 at 05:14 PM
Look no further than Deerfield. The district accomplished a $12 million A/C project last summer and wants to do a $4 million science lab upgrade this summer. Bond issue? No. Paid for thru savings? Yes. Maybe send Mr. Dada over to see Mr. Himebaugh for a crash course in school financing.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther February 14, 2014 at 05:50 PM
The point is that everyone says they THINK there is wasted spending, but I haven't seen specific examples and what the expenditure should be. Therefore, we're all guessing. As far as Deerfield, I don't know the District facilities well, but I believe the majority were built in the 1960s as opposed to being over 75 years old. Big difference. And I'm not as impressed as Walter is with their superintendent who, by the way, came from 112 initially. BTW, 112 has only had one superintendent that I would say was good, and that was Darrell Lund, the first superintendent. He had the guts to tell the parents to pound sand, when appropriate. Everyone else has just sucked up to the loudest group.
forest barbieri February 14, 2014 at 05:53 PM
Unless I am missing something closing schools is at the forefront of the discussion relative to items C,D & E. While there is a lot of road before we get the the finish line, that likely is a part of the process. That indeed over time, will save money although initially it will likely add expense. That is a numbers game relative to need, direction and costs. Of course there will be the usual "Don't close my school, close their school" and chaining ourselves to the flag post. (Here is a business opportunity for bumper stickers..."Do Not CLose My School", along with a followup business of removing those bumper stickers later). Then once we get past that and tear down the flagpoles, the 800 pound gorilla enters the room retrofitting the remaining schools and what does that mean in terms of cost and financing. This is going to be a long, difficult and contested road.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther February 14, 2014 at 06:19 PM
Forest, you are correct. This isn't a money problem, its a political problem. One only has to go back about 20 years ago to see how this could play out. Just so we are factual, however, closing schools means we will be adding onto others to take the student population. The savings comes from operations (e.g. staffing.)
Walter White February 14, 2014 at 06:31 PM
Yes Tripp, you certainly don't know D109. While I like the new Supt, he had no hand in the business that I speak of. That would be the Business Manager, Greg Himebaugh. So maybe you should just listen and learn something.
Highlands HP'er February 14, 2014 at 06:39 PM
The q- you keep bringing up parochial schools as a comparison. It simply isn't a fair comparison. My brother went to notre dame. Guess what happened if you missbehaved horribly? You were simply kicked out. Special ed? No can do. The schools can pick and choose their students. Public schools can't do this.
Walter White February 14, 2014 at 06:44 PM
And the new D109 Supt was NOT a Supt in D112 so strike 2, Tripp.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther February 14, 2014 at 09:01 PM
I never said he was the Superintendent in 112. He was a principal and then he was the Assistant Superintendent for Personnel. And I was referring to your posts related to the superintendent search in 112 when you stated what a wonderful superintendent Mr. Lubefeld was.
Walter White February 14, 2014 at 09:07 PM
When did i say that?
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther February 14, 2014 at 09:10 PM
I believe when you made a comment about Linda Hanson's search firm and how 109 had dumped them. NTW, I agree with the point that there are problems with school search firms, in general.
Walter White February 14, 2014 at 09:14 PM
Gotcha. Yeah he's only been on the job for a few months but he's making a very good impression from what I hear.
AK February 14, 2014 at 11:45 PM
HP public schools are garbage. Kids who spent three years in Montessori type school prior to the 1st grade public school have nothing to do in school for the first 4 years. Sell one of them to Montessori or Roycemore and get rid of the 50% of the lousy public school teachers for starters. Then deal with operational budgets. And only after that decide on construction. The commie architect = enigma? LOL, watch his video on youtube.
Highlands HP'er February 15, 2014 at 08:28 AM
we actually have pretty good schools in hp. anyone who uses greatschools.com to ague otherwise either is unwilling to dig further or is an agitator. simply put... we have a large population of english learners who dont test well.
The Q February 15, 2014 at 08:37 AM
pretty good is not great......its the kids and families of HP that make the schools. You must think HP is the ghetto....all these problemed kids who have no place to go and cant learn or is that just the excuse for why we cant do better?
forest barbieri February 15, 2014 at 02:52 PM
It is not the schools that are broke, it is the system. Once you focus your efforts on the "test" the system becomes flawed. Not sure who said it but yes the Montessori kids do have some advantages coming in as they have learned to learn and unfortunately, that is not what the public system is about. In addition, the public system is burdened with issues that private education does not deal with having significant resources committed to remediation along with broader demographics which can require specialized IEP's. The bureaucracy within the public sector stifles the educational process. We have looked at a private school and it is a competitive entry with even pre-first graders being personally evaluated for acceptance. They are clear in that they do not remediate but have a much more flexible approach to each enrolled student than the public arena as they have relatively good funding, a cherry picked populous and streamlined decision making . Having said that, HP Public schools are in the higher quartile of the public arena and do a good job. The issues again are in the public system wherein, if you are not in the Humanities program you likely go through middle school with a much narrower knowledge base, vocabulary, spelling and mathematics than we had at that stage. However, this issue has nothing to do with changing the "system" rather, it is about resource allocation, MONEY, politics and retrofitting.
Dan Jenks February 16, 2014 at 10:07 AM
There are significant problems with the quality of education provided in District 112 which are too numerous to get into here – to paraphrase a famous quote, “District 112 was born on third base and thought it had hit a triple.” That said, I know some intelligent and hard-working individuals on the Board and in the Administration who are trying to make things better and, at a slow pace over the past decade, educational quality has indeed improved at District 112. The District’s buildings report indicates that under any of the scenarios presented, additional resources will be necessary – these resources won’t solve all of the challenges District 112 faces, but hopefully will be used to create a foundation for the type of schools our community wants and deserves. Beyond the operating savings that each scenario contemplates, District 112 needs to come up with a convincing explanation of how our schools are going to be better after consolidation – be it classroom differentiation, additional course offerings (like foreign language in our elementary schools), etc.
Dan Jenks February 16, 2014 at 10:08 AM
Walter, I can’t opine about the prior maintenance/capital improvement decisions of past D112 Administrations (I do wonder whether too much work was deferred for too long and whether the social contract of continual reinvestment in our schools was broken during the last few decades) but regardless of these decisions, the facilities situation is what it is. “Holding District 112 accountable” will have no effect on any current or prior Administrator – what it means in this context is forcing the kids in school today to live with either substandard facilities or with a reduction in the quality of their education - which isn’t fair to these children.
Walter White February 16, 2014 at 10:13 AM
Your same dirge as D113. You just changed the number.
forest barbieri February 16, 2014 at 11:06 AM
@Walter As stated before, D112 challenges are much broader and complicated than D113's were/are. D113 Referendum was a lovefest compared to the challenges D112 faces. The unfortunate thing is and I believe the community with children in the system realizes that D112 has the broader and deeper need to improve both facilities and education, ultimately having the most effect one way or the other on our community. I agree with Dans assessment that D112 is really going to have to focus on the end game of how our K-8 education process will improve and be able to both detail and quantify the path to getting there. While important, this is not just about facilities.
Walter White February 16, 2014 at 11:22 AM
Actually I was talking about his comment about not being able to hold past administrations accountable and it just "is what it is." Supts make the big bucks and they are big boys and girls. How about making their salaries dependent on bringing in projects on time and under budget? All of a sudden they would have a sense of urgency about this stuff, guaranteed.
Larry Jones February 18, 2014 at 10:59 AM
Amazing how interest all of these guys are as none of them probably have kids in #112 schools. These guys who are quoted above should get a life instead of spending all of their time on every blog Patch comes up with except with Tripp who I know is involved
Walter White February 18, 2014 at 11:10 AM
That's the beauty of being a taxpayer. You get input on everything you pay taxes on.
MC February 18, 2014 at 11:48 AM
in 2000 Ravinia school did major construction and renovations. I seriously hope it's not on the chopping block.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther February 18, 2014 at 12:34 PM
MC, every school in the district received updates around 2000, not just Ravinia. That is one of the issues I had before. The District caved to the parent community and decided to keep all 11 schools and invest in each one (except Braeside, who got theirs a year later.) People should be aware there has not been a professional assessment of the existing buildings, so it is premature to talk about what should be closed, torn down, or added on to. The one exception to that is likely Oak Terrace, due to the fact it was built in 2000. I believe the wisest approach is to assume that every school will be asked to change in some way, and that "my" school, whichever one it is, is likely to be impacted the most. That way, you can look at the situation more critically.
Walter White February 18, 2014 at 01:23 PM
Community input is great, but I'm sure you realize that a consensus is impossible in this case. The administration is going to have to put forward a plan, one that will piss off a good number of people one way or another. Let's hope they have the stones to do this and make a decision that they feel is in the best interest of the community and the students.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther February 18, 2014 at 02:41 PM
Walter, I agree 100%.
RR February 21, 2014 at 03:37 PM
The issues of school consolidation and community angst regarding the details notwithstanding I am profoundly disappointed that this request for hundreds of millions of dollars for chronic, obvious, and ignored problems is not accompanied by a greater plan put forth by 112 leadership regarding the vision and plan for elementary education in a time of technologic change and fiscal constraints. "The SCFFAC does not believe it would be feasible to try to resolve the District’s fiscal imbalances by freezing or substantially curtailing increases in the salary and benefits of teachers and other personnel. Even more fundamentally, we believe it would be harmful to the entire Highland Park community, which deeply values, expects and deserves high-quality and high-performing educators " Enough with these homilies and useless boilerplate. Married to a request for hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the physical plant needs to be an innovative vision for how we measure the quality of teachers and education, how we deal with the annual deficit resulting from yearly increases in teacher/employee salaries and benefits, and how we provide a cutting edge education.
Stu Pidasso February 23, 2014 at 10:13 AM
Walter, I also agree.. These "Community " meetings are merely lip service. It's a done deal, and we will be privy to their list when this dog and pony show is over!!!


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