District 189 oversight panel tables decision on school sale

News-DemocratAugust 26, 2013 

— Several dozen Alorton residents, with youngsters in tow, protested the pending sale of a former school building to a salvage yard Monday at the East St. Louis District 189 offices, but the matter was postponed.

At least 40 people arrived outside the school offices at 9:30 a.m. and protested for about 40 minutes before entering the building, where the Financial Oversight Panel was meeting.

After about an hour and a half, the panel went into closed session to discuss the proposed building sale and personnel matters. Shortly before the group reconvened at 1:30 p.m., East St. Louis District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver came out and went into a brief closed door meeting with Alorton Mayor JoAnn Reed. He announced at 1:36 p.m. that the decision to sell the Curtis Miller Alternative High School building on Grand "has been tabled so we can give it further consideration."

No date or time was given for a decision, but Reed said she believes that by them "tabling it to give it further consideration, it means they are going to seriously think about what the building means to the children of Alorton and if they are serious about putting children first they will not sell it to the salvage yard."

Before Monday's meeting, Culver had already recommended to the school board to approve its sale for $100,000 to the Grand Street Salvage yard. But, all sales have to be approved by the oversight panel.

The members of the panel are Deb Vespa, Sister Julia Huiskamp, Linda Matowski, Culver, Chairman Ranadore Foggs, Retired St. Clair County Judge Milton S. Wharton and the Rev. Jerome Jackson.

One of the protesters, Albert Reed, 84, said his tax dollars had paid for the building over and over and he felt it should be given to the village to be used for the youth to keep them off the street and in a safe and clean environment.

Culver, during the meeting also said he applauded Mayor Reed's "passion and the support she received" from parents and children.

"It's a very difficult challenge for the mayor and the residents of Alorton. I applaud them for coming out and expressing their views."

Culver said the people of Alorton were "fortunate to have a mayor with that kind of heart for the community."

Reed said she had met with Culver before Monday and had told him of her plans. He told her to get her plans to him in writing, "which I did, but he still recommended that the building be sold to the salvage yard," she said. Reed said she could not just sit by and let this happen without a fight "because the children are our future" "It is our duty as parents and leaders to give them the tools they need to be successful in life. Another salvage yard in Alorton Really?"

"I know what that building means to the village. And, we have a number of people who are willing to partner with us to do so much good in the village," Reed said.

At the meeting, Reed made a passionate plea to board members to not allow the school building to be sold. After the regular meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss the sale of the building, and personnel matters. They left at 11:00 and returned at 1:36 p.m.

Outside in the hallway, while she waited for the board to reconvene, Reed told a reporter, "There's no amount of money that should come before the life and future of a child. The children play basketball in the street. We have no place else for them to play. We have no place to conduct camp when it's too hot outside or it's raining. We have no place to have mentoring programs, sports activities or anything else. It is critical that we get that building," Reed said with anguish in her eyes.

One business owner in Alorton, Janice Patterson , who owns "itty Bitty Children's Museum/Balloon Baby," said our mission is "to build effective learning through effective play."

She protested because she knows how important the building is to the village, too.

"Children learn through play. I am looking for a place to house a children's museum like they have in St. Louis or Edwardsville. Right now, we have to take our children to Fairview Heights or Belleville. We want to stay in our community," she said.

Darianne Brown, 7, a student at Katie Harper Wright Elementary School said, "I want them to give us that building so we can be safe and do things right. We need somewhere to have our parties and camp, too."

Her mother, Elesia Golliday Brown said she can visualize all of the good that building will do for the children of Alorton. She came out Monday "to let them hear my voice. I want them to listen to me and the others who have come here to express themselves," she said.

Gabby Blackburn, 3, said, "I want to play and have fun with lots of children."

Pearl McCorkle and her 89-year-old father came to the protest. She said, "I want the community to have it for the children. They have no other outlet. In the winter when it's too cold or in the summer when it's too hot we can't keep them outside. They need and deserve a clean safe place to play."

Reed said school leaders say they want parents and city leaders to step up and do more to help the children. Then, when you do, you can't get the help that you need from them". Reed said she was disappointed that a decision in favor of giving the building to the village for the children was not made money , but she said "We're reasonable. We will wait," she said.

But if the vote is not favorable, Reed said she will continue on to the state and federal level because "the children are just that important to me. If we don't want them to end up connected to the wrong things, we have to expose them to positive character building things. I and many others will not just talk the talk, we will fight for our children."

Reed said when you enter the administration building's meeting room, On the wall are two very important words, "Children First." If they are truly putting children first, they will not sell that building to the salvage yard.

If Reed gets her way, the building, which has been shuttered for several years, will be called the Alorton Community Resource Center.

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