Protests at Eastside School over closurePublished 11:45am Monday, May 3, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
More than a dozen parents, students and neighborhood supporters turned up at Eastside Elementary School Monday morning to protest a recommendation before the Niles Community Schools Board of Education to close the school.
The recommendation to close Eastside is just one of many on a list being put before board members as a reaction to significant state reductions in funding which the district is facing for the upcoming school year.
Parents say there are other options.
Lisa Crowder was one of those parents.
“I went to school here,” she said. As she spoke, her daughter Bailey, currently a student at Eastside, marched around the school with the group that had gathered to protest the recommendation.
“She still has a few more years here,” Crowder said.
Many parents were upset last week when their students brought home letters informing them of the intention by the district to close the school. Though it remains a recommendation, the letters informed parents their students had already been assigned to other schools for next year.
And for many of those parents the issue is one of deep-rooted emotion.
Crowder said she grew up not far from the school in her parents’ home and bought the home next door. Her grandfather and her great-grandfather helped build the school back in 1939.
“Yes it’s an older school,” she said. “But you walk in that door and you are family.”
Shouting “heck no, we won’t close” and “save Eastside school” the parents and supporters, led by Jeff Harrell, owner of Pine Lake Pizza who coordinated the protest, were not just in opposition of the closure but have questions, as well.
Those questions include how the district plans to accommodate bussing of Eastside students to their intended schools: Ballard, Howard-Ellis and Northside.
Also in question is the process used for redistricting the students. Crowder said she’d heard of one family with two children attending Eastside. When they returned home with their letters last week, one was to be sent to Howard-Ellis and another to Ballard.
“The kids should not have gotten that letter, they should have sent it directly home,” Crowder said.
She said she’d heard some teachers were very emotional as the letters were passed out and students came home crying.
“It was the hardest thing they (teachers) could do, to give those letters out,” Crowder said, tears welling up in her eyes.
The group moved from Eastside school to the Westside Administration Building where Superintendent Doug Law invited them in for a sit-down informational meeting.
“It’s emotional,” Law said. “I know it’s emotional.”
Addressing those families who saw their students come home with letters saying they would be sent off to different schools, Law said, “that’s obviously a mistake on our part … That is a mistake that needs to be fixed. The goal is not just to not split up families but to not split up neighborhoods.”
Crowder and concerned supporters of the school questioned compensation to administrators and even members of the board of education.
In his report being presented to the board tonight, at a meeting to be held at Ballard Elementary School at 5:30 p.m., Law said, “as I look to save $4.5 million, I’m taking some of it in cuts, some of it out of fund balance and I’m working with the employee groups as we work on compensation concessions.”
Parents also questioned the stand of incoming Superintendent Richard Weigel, who recently moved into the neighborhood, with a home on Regent Street.
“The administrative recommendation is to close Eastside and as I enter into the district, I’m supporting the administrative recommendation,” he said Monday.
“Everything that I have to do,” he added, “is, I need to work toward the future. The situation of the where we are as a district right now has all been put in place prior to my coming in so my goal now is to take us into the future.”
Whether or not parents will see their concerns quelled at tonight’s meeting is uncertain. Law said each visitor to the meeting who wants to speak will have their opportunity. Questions have been requested in advance and each visitor will have three minutes to speak. Law said the questions will not be censored.
As for the question of why the district chose to assign students to new schools next year before even finalizing the recommendation, Law said the move came from past experience when closing Oak Manor years ago.
“You want to be able to assure people we’re not breaking their family up we’re not breaking their neighborhood up.”