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Citizens demonstrated outside Eastside School and the district administration building Monday morning. Many more attended the board meeting that night. (Daily Star photo/JESSICA SIEFF)
Citizens demonstrated outside Eastside School and the district administration building Monday morning. Many more attended the board meeting that night. (Daily Star photo/JESSICA SIEFF)

Archived Story

Citizens to school board: save Eastside School

Published 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.

Dramatic decision
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.

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  • winski

    It is really sad that the ‘elected’ board members voted on their own agenda rather than taking time to ‘listen’ in various community forums to what the voters want to do. They pushed this through and already had their minds made up before going to a vote. I saw one one board member who was remorseful for the decision made, thank you to Mr. O’Toole for ‘listening’ to the voters! I have lost respect for the rest of the board, especially Mr. Law who had children attend Eastside. As your term ends you should not be happy and bragging about closing your fifth school. You should have left this decsion to incoming superintendent Richard Weigel and a new board. No one on this board is thinking outside of the box but going by the good ol boys way of making decision. Only one person thought independently and that is Mr. O’Toole regardless of how Kathy Zeider voted. She had the opportunity to second the prior motion to table the decision but chickened out. She also lived on the Eastside in her younger life, sad to thing she didn’t make a difference when she could have. I say recall every board member except Mr. O’Toole and put board members in place who actually care about ALL residents of Niles, not just one side of town.

  • S.O.L.

    I think that there are certainly plenty of reasons to be upset,one is the lack of communication in the press release adequately explaining why schools should be meshed together,its certainly more than Eastsides infrastructure issues.The issue as I understand it now once asking some well directed questions are Ballard is not up to full capacity nor is Eastside so meshing the schools makes sense.The political double talk is another issue,if I could count the times Ive heard the pres touting the importance of education and that more money need be allocated to it and then to see cuts like the per pupil cuts in Michigan it just makes no sense.I for one dislike watching our state fall into decline like this,as goes our state so goes our city and there is seemingly nothing that we can do.The economy has brought us to ruination and we all feel helpless and dislike losing even one more thing.The fact is people are leaving Michigan and the slow economy is certainly to fault and our city has to adjust for that.Eastside students will be well taken care of at Ballard or any other school in Niles because Niles is a community,our job as parents is to make sure that these schools that are being meshed are done so gracefully and that adequate space is in each building,I sincerely hope that once our budget crisis is brought under control the administration does not give itself a big fat pay raise and uses the money to restore and renovate the schools that are left and make them into a nice place to be.

  • Anthony

    As I watched those Eastside parents pour their hearts out ,I noticed something quite sad. A few of the board members were literally not paying ANY attention.

    Mr. Dreher, did you have someplace else to be? The crossed arms…the shuffling of papers…your entire demeanor was DISRESPECTFUL!

    The people only wanted to be heard.

    Would you have been far more concerned if, perhaps, they lived on YOUR side of town?

    I was truly repulsed by your OBVIOUS arrogance.

    Remember, what you give in life comes back to you. In your case…it couldn’t be soon enough.

  • vikingmom1965

    You know I am 44 years old and when I went to grade school their were 7 grade schools now we are down to two what is going on ? Are we not thinking of the children, how can we expect to crowd these classrooms and give the children a proper education? And why do these board members get paid so much most of them are business owners or politicians and have enough money already. How much money does one person need and wouldnt that money be better spent on the school systems. I have 3 grandsons in the howard school district one attends now and they are full now where are they gonna put these children without hurting them by the individual help they will need. I just think it is stupid we always seem to be taking from the community instead of some other more sensible places for once cant we listen to the people that are the parents of these children it is gonna affect instead of politicians it doesnt

  • Anthony

    Why does the Niles superintendent make MORE (yes, MORE) than South Bend, Penn Harris Madison and Mishawaka? Those districts are huge. Niles just got even smaller.

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