Citizens to school board: save Eastside SchoolPublished 11:42pm Monday, May 3, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Following a round of criticism and heartfelt pleas for reconsideration, the Niles Community Schools Board of Education voted to accept recommendations to make changes and cuts throughout the school district including the closing of Eastside School with a vote of 5 to 2.
It was a decision that left many of the more than 100 parents, students, teachers and members of the community in tears.
As the members of the board filed into the cafeteria at Ballard Elementary School Monday night, parents who had protested a recommendation to close Eastside earlier that morning gathered outside once again with signs in hand.
Joining the crowd inside, many of them wearing Eastside school T-shirts, those protesting the close of Niles’ oldest school sat before the board and waited to be heard.
“Not too many people probably want to be sitting where you are right now,” Superintendent Doug Law told board members once the meeting had started.
“You all know we are facing a significant shortfall right now,” he continued.
The superintendent described the financial situation facing the board as “unheard of as long as I’ve been in this school district.”
He then presented the board with his report, outlining recommendations of budget cuts throughout the district including the controversial closing of Eastside Elementary School.
The “Depression era school” that is “built like a tank” was at the center of protests that took place Monday morning outside the school, parents, students and community supporters hoping the district would take note and reconsider other options to save money.
“There are other ways,” Eastside alumna and parent Lisa Crowder said early Monday morning. “You walk in there, they (teachers and staff) know who you are.”
The decision to close the school was made even worse by the district’s choice to send letters home with students informing parents of the closure and where their students would be going to school – something many complained about.
Local historian Donna Ochenryder called the move “deplorable.”
For Crowder, whose grandfather and great grandfather helped build the school in 1939, hopes were dashed with the board’s final vote.
After hearing more than a dozen comments from citizens and parents the board had to vote on budget cuts that included the school closing, moving to all-day every-other-day kindergarten and reductions in certain positions. The recommendations do not take immediate effect, but would become official when the budget comes up for adoption in June.
Asked if anything could happen between now and June to take Eastside’s closure off the table, board president Dana Daniels response was, “all sorts of things can happen between now and June.”
Taking into consideration the severity of the district’s shortfall however, a change in the intent to close the school seems unlikely.
Following citizen comments Daniels addressed the crowd.
“This is a budget recommendation,” he said. “The budget is not adopted until June.
People need to understand that. If you don’t, you should now.”
Trustee Gregory O’Toole then made a motion to table the issue until May 17, but gasps could be heard from the crowd when no one seconded the motion.
A motion to accept the budget cut recommendations was made by trustee Elaine Miller, who is retiring from the board of education this term.
During the roll call vote, O’Toole voted no, along with trustee Kathy Zeider, who’d been asked during the comment portion by Christina Harrell her thoughts on the issue, “being an Eastsider.”
The board’s vote was met with chants of “recall” and Jeff Harrell, who organized the morning protests and even sat down with a group of concerned protesters and Law earlier in the day, said he planned to be at the city clerk’s office Tuesday morning.
“I’m going tomorrow morning to recall,” he said.
Many who had spoken before the board were in tears as they filed out of the meeting.
The decision comes as a transition team, headed up by incoming superintendent Richard Weigel, is working on answers to many questions regarding how life will be for students and parents after the close.
Some concerned with the closure voiced their opinion that incoming superintendent Weigel – not Law – should have more to do with the decision.
Daniels said Weigel had been involved in the process of working through budget cuts from the beginning and has “taken the lead” on determining Eastside’s transition. A transition that will not be an easy one.
To read more about the citizens’ demonstrations Monday morning, visit www.nilesstar.com.