June 1, 2014

East St. Louis considers closing Miles Davis Kindergarten Center

Will Miles Davis Kindergarten Center on North 15th Street close at the end of the school year? This is the question that many parents and students are asking.

School District 189 officials at this time do not know if they will close the school. But the school board and the Financial Oversight Panel have given Superintendent Arthur Culver permission to restructure the district's schools if there is no other way to cut the budget deficit the district faces. Approximately 500 children would be affected if the school is closed.

Beth Shepperd, spokeswoman for District 189, said closing the school is the last option for Culver, who is still exploring every possible avenue to keep the students and teachers intact at the school.

If the move happens, parents and teachers will know by June 17, Shepperd said.

"District officials would like to have stability and not make the move at this time. However, for financial reasons, we have to do what's necessary," Shepperd said.

"The superintendent is working with the budget to determine if cuts can be made elsewhere. Stability is best for the students and their teachers. They've become comfortable with each other," Shepperd said.

For the last five years, the district has been closing schools "and we're ready to stabilize our schools, but we're dealing with a large budget deficit," Shepperd said.

The size of the deficit was not available. Also, Shepperd did not have the amount of money that would be saved if Miles Davis was closed.

Shepperd said the superintendent has personnel monitoring the utility bills, transportation costs and other things and it is taking a little time to get those figures together.

Shepperd said if Miles Davis closes, the kindergarteners would return to schools in their neighborhoods. And fifth-graders would go to middle school. But the fifth-graders would have a separate wing with different beginning and dismissal times. Also, they would have their own bus.

Mamie Cosey is angry that district officials are even considering closing Miles Davis, which has, she said, "a model kindergarten" that should be held up with pride for others to see.

Cosey was at the meeting Tuesday when members of the Financial Oversight Panel made their vote.

"I am very much upset for the simple fact that it is the only kindergarten of its kind. It should be a model school. It's working. Why destroy it?" she asked.

Cosey, whose daughter is a fourth-grade special needs student, also is upset with the proposed restructuring plan because it would send fifth-graders to middle school.

"And moving my fourth-grader, who has no business in middle school, makes no sense. It is not an option for me. If they close the school, my daughter will not attend District 189 in the next school year. She's 9 and will be 10 in July. A 10-year-old in middle school is inappropriate," Cosey said.

Cosey said the reason the district is providing for the restructuring, "I feel is inappropriate. Education can be effectively run on a shoestring budget just as well as on an elaborate budget. If we have a shoestring budget, let's make it work. When my husband died, I had to make an adjustment. I did what I had to do to make things work. If I can do it, the district can too."

Cosey said she first learned about the possibility that the district would be closing Miles Davis at a Key Communicator meeting.

"They have three meetings a year where parents can get updates on what's going on in the district. And a couple of months ago, it was brought up in the meeting," she said.

Ranadore Foggs, chairman of the Financial Oversight Panel, said he voted in favor of giving the superintendent the go-ahead to do what he needs to do purely for financial reasons. But, he said his vote came with assurance from Culver that he would look at every aspect of the budget to see whether something else could be cut.

Former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Milton Wharton voted against the move. Wharton said, "There appears to be an agreement that educating kindergartners at one location is the most effective and efficient option that permits a concentration of resources and avoids a duplication of services. Also, closing Miles Davis School would be another disruption in the lives of East St. Louis children who already, through no fault of their own, have already been subjected to many disruptions of their educational experience."

Also, he said closing the school would result in all probability another vacant building which would be destroyed by vandals and be another lost asset for the financially strapped district.

Sister Julia Huiskamp one of the board members whose vote provided the necessary permission for the district to at least consider closing the school, said "All of these decisions are predicated on state money being available. Local property tax provides a very small amount of money to operate the schools."

If more state money was available "like we use to do get, we could do lots of things, including possibly keep Miles Davis open, hire more teachers, teacher aids and a lot of other things that the district needs. The children need extra stuff. There's no doubt about that," Huiskamp said.

"The FOP is not happy about making all of these cuts that are disruptive to the children and that parents don't like. You have to deal with reality. If the money isn't there, what are you going to do?" Huiskamp asked.

The Rev. Jerome Jackson, the other board member whose vote provided the necessary permission for the district to at least consider closing the school, could not be reached for comment.

Financial Oversight Panel member Linda Matkowski was not at the meeting to vote.

Shepperd said some parents have expressed to district officials that they want their children to return to neighborhood schools where they have older siblings who could pick them up and be home with them after school. And others, Shepperd said, would like the kindergarten to remain at Miles Davis.

"Most parents don't want their children at the middle school. This is not something we want to do. But, if we are forced to do it, we will have to do what is necessary," Shepperd said.

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