Parents plan protest of Eastside School closurePublished 4:04pm Thursday, April 29, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Public opinion over the recommendation being made to the Niles Community Schools Board of Education to close Eastside Elementary School is mounting following a round of letter sent home with students Wednesday afternoon informing parents of the move.
Jeff Harrell and his wife, Christina, owners of Pine Lake Pizza in Niles, said they would be outside the school Thursday afternoon to hand out fliers to parents encouraging them to hold a protest Monday morning.
“Eastside is overwhelmingly the most popular school,” Harrell said.
His family has been going to the school for three generations, and now, after receiving a letter on Wednesday afternoon, he faces his children being bussed to Ballard Elementary School next year.
With all the money he said he’s put into his community, particularly going toward the school system, he said, “now the school system is saying I have no say so in their decisions? That’s not right.
“It sounds like they did this behind closed doors,” he said.
Eastside was on a list of possible options the board could consider because it is facing serious budgetary challenges in the coming year. Northside Child Development Center was also a school on that list of options for which closure was considered.
News broke of the district’s plans to close the school Wednesday afternoon. Since then, members of the community have been speaking out about the possibility of seeing Niles’ oldest school close.
“I feel I’ve been wronged, yes,” Harrell said.
At the root of that feeling is the fact that though closing the school still must be recommended and approved by the board, letters to parents informed them a school had already been assigned to their student for next year.
Harrell said he received a letter at the beginning of the year encouraging parents to send their students to one of the district’s other elementary schools as Eastside faced high enrollment numbers. Something he thinks is evidence of the school’s popularity.
“I pay more to the schools than I do to the city,” he said.
“We didn’t even get a vote,” Christina said.
They may not have gotten to vote on the move to close the school but they definitely plan to make their voices heard. Harrell, his wife and his brother, Terry, were at the school Thursday afternoon handing out fliers informing parents of a planned protest to take place outside Eastside Elementary on Monday between 8 and 9 a.m. so the parents, kids, teachers and administrators would “they have our full support,” Harrell said.
Harrell expects ample turnout for the protest, which will move to the Westside Administration Building at 9 a.m.
When discussing the recommendation Wednesday, Superintendent Doug Law recognized closing the school as an emotional issue for many but said after going over the district’s options for saving money, closing Eastside seemed an obvious choice.
Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin weighed in on the idea.
“I think as an Eastsider myself and as a parent who had two children attend Eastside, we’re terribly disappointed” in the decision made to present the closure to the board, he said.
“We do think and continue to think Eastside is a great neighborhood school,” he said.
McCauslin also said he believes the school was likely in better condition than it seems to be portrayed and commented on the school’s automatic fire protection system, which keeps students safe.
“But again,” he added, “(I) understand the economic challenges facing the school board, I just hope as they work through this process there might be other things they can do and other cuts that can be made.
“Eastside is a tremendously loved neighborhood school,” McCauslin said.
Harrell also questioned the effect closing the school may have on property values.
City Administrator Terry Eull, who carries with him around 30 years of experience as an assessor, said he doesn’t believe the move would have a negative impact on property values.
Niles’ current assessor, Cindy Closson, said indirectly, she believes it would.
“Indirectly, yes,” she said. “And I say that because it would affect the surrounding property and the neighborhood properties” over a number of years.
“People would be willing to pay a higher price for a neighborhood of that school if it’s a popular school,” she added.
The effect would take place through the “sales of property in that neighborhood.”
Even for all of his frustration and determination to resist the closure of Eastside, Harrell does not plan to watch classrooms empty quietly.
Asked if he believes protests could change the mind of the powers that be to keep the school open, he answered, “no.”
“I think their minds are already made up,” he said. “But I’m not going to be quiet about it.
“I’m going to be a voice,” he said. “And I’m going to be a loud one.”
Harrell said his children, Brooke, 13, Brenton 10 and Bryant, 7, would not be in school Monday morning, but on the picket line with him. A picket sign-making party will be held Sunday evening at Pine Lake Pizza.
After informing his children’s teachers of their intended absence, Harrell said he was told teachers were not able to talk about the closure at the present time, something he believes is wrong.
A call was made to Eastside Principal David Eichenberg, but was not returned by press time.
For now, regardless of the district’s mindset, the Harrells plan to stay loyal to their school for as long as they can.
“If they close Eastside,” Christina said, “my kids will go to Brandywine (Community Schools). And they won’t come back to Niles.”