Granite City students will go to “attendance centers” instead of neighborhood schools next year, despite the protests of some parents and family members.
The Granite City School Board faced a crowd that half-filled the high school auditorium Tuesday night that seemed almost universally opposed to the plan to go to attendance centers, where grades are consolidated into single buildings.
Currently, elementary students attend neighborhood schools near their homes, but by fifth grade, they go to attendance centers. All fifth- and sixth-graders go to Grigsby Intermediate; all seventh- and eighth-graders go to Coolidge Middle School. This proposal will apply that structure to all grades.
Parents and other family members expressed concerns that families with multiple children will end up picking up their children at three different schools, putting additional strain on families.
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The plan also involves moving the Early Childhood Center from its current building into a building with the kindergarten children.
Grandparent Linda Knogl, a former teacher who has led a parent group in protests outside the Early Childhood Center, presented the board with petitions against both plans at the meeting.
The original proposal was to separate the early-childhood students across the district, but Superintendent Jim Greenwald said the plan changed after strong opposition from parents and families.
Greenwald said the district has to make significant changes for financial reasons, given declining enrollment and reduced funding from the state.
“Major change is not easily embraced,” he said. “But we cannot continue with the status quo.”
Greenwald said there are 45 empty or underused classrooms in the district, including 12 rooms at Prather Elementary and nine at Wilson and Mitchell each. By going to attendance centers, he said, the district will save money and use its space more efficiently.
“It is very difficult to get to a balanced budget, and even harder to stay there,” Greenwald said.
Specifically, Greenwald said the following consolidations would take place:
• Current Maryville, Mitchell and Worthen students will attend Maryville Elementary for first and second grade and Mitchell for third and fourth grade.
• Current Frohardt, Prather and Wilson students will attend Wilson for first and second grade and Frohardt for third and fourth grade.
• The Early Childhood Center/pre-kindergarten students and all kindergarteners will attend Prather Elementary.
• Worthen and Lake elementary schools will be closed.
Greenwald also repeated his promise to the early childhood parents that the program would not be shut down.
Greenwald said they have estimated renovating Prather Elementary for the younger children will cost about $80,000 to $100,000, with much of the work done in-house. We wouldn’t have even proposed it if it would cost an arm and a leg, he said.
As far as how much the attendance centers will save the district, Greenwald said he did not have a projection on the savings because it will take time for the costs to go down. But he believes staff reductions through attrition, the closing of two schools and more efficient use of space will help the districts finances, he said.
“If we stay with the status quo, I’m doing this community a disservice with all those vacant classrooms,” Greenwald said.
The board voted unanimously to approve the plan, with no public discussion after Greenwald’s presentation.
Some parents protested what they perceived as limited communication from the school board on the specifics of the plan prior to the meeting.
“What purpose does it serve for us to contact you if you only reply with vague non-responses?” asked parent Katie Meyer.
Meyer said she felt it was at best unethical for the board to bring the attendance center policy up for discussion at the same meeting where they intended to vote, and asked them to continue the discussion instead of voting right away.
“It is not in line with good school board practices or ethics,” Meyer said. “We were told discussions of this plan have been happening since April of last year. That seems like a sufficient amount of time to put it on the agenda and discuss it publicly.”
Knogl questioned whether the proposal will actually save the district money, stating that she believes the costs of renovating are higher than estimated and that the money would be better served bringing back programs like the gifted program, which was cut some years ago for budget reasons.
Parent Summer Moore said the school board should consider the issues faced by parents who may have children at three different schools due to their ages, especially a single parent racing to pick up their children on time. She said the families of Granite City are already facing a number of hardships, and this further upheaval will cause more harm than good.
“This change does not make our city or school district more desirable,” Moore said. “Those who are capable will move, or seek other school options. How does that affect our enrollment?”
At least two parents also objected that a 5 p.m. start time for regular school board meetings made it difficult for working parents to attend school board meetings.