One last fight for Eastside SchoolPublished 10:42pm Tuesday, June 15, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Though the farewell speeches have been given and some pieces of history turned over to the Fort St. Joseph Museum, the fight to see students in the halls at Eastside Elementary School continues.
Supporters of the school started knocking on doors this week with recall petitions in hand, hoping to see three members of the Niles Community Schools Board of Education pulled from their seats.
“The support has been more overwhelming now,” said Jeff Harrell, owner of Pine Lake PIzza, who opposes the closure.
When news broke, the school was on the list of cuts the district would make in the wake of a reduction in state funding. Harrell passed out fliers encouraging parents and residents to fight to keep the school open and helped organize protests held outside the school.
Now, Harrell will be looking for support from area parents and residents once again.
Verbiage has been approved through the county paving the way for recall petitions now circulating throughout Niles.
Harrell and his fellow supporters saw the wording approved June 11 and have 90 days from that date to get the signatures needed in order to move forward with the recall of three board members: board president Dana Daniels, vice president Michael Dreher and treasurer Michael Waldron.
“Of course I’m concerned,” Waldron said in response to the recall petitions. “I’m here to represent the people of Niles and the whole Niles Community Schools … so yes, it concerns me that some people want me to leave the job.”
Harrell said frustrations among Eastside parents are still alive and well, fueled by the apparent finality of the decision, not actually final until the board votes on the proposed budget – which includes the Eastside closure – on Monday.
Still, Harrell said, “everything is boxed up and being thrown away” without a final vote.
People are “extremely” upset, he said.
“They see things are happening and it’s not even been approved yet,” Harrell said.
“If you make the decision afte rthe school is already out it’s hard,” Waldron said. “We basically told the superintendent to go ahead with his planning.
“In the interim,” he continued, “I haven’t seen any information to change my mind.”
Waldron said he had been against the closing of the school when the option was visited in previous board meetings, but the financial crisis and a lack of stronger options turned his opinion.
“My basic thought was, I didn’t find any other place to cut the budget that would hurt less than closing Eastside,” he said. “You either had to take more money away from curriculum or lay off more teachers… I’d love to have more neighborhood schools, but we can’t afford them.”
Harrell needs 1,777 valid signatures to move forward with the recall and said he’s aiming for 2,300 to 2,400.
Farewells have already been made to Eastside, which begs the question of whether a continued fight is damaging, especially to those students and parents who may get their hopes up that things could change when in fact, the likelihood is slim.
But Harrell seems to feel all is not lost.
“We’ve got until Sept. 7 before that school bell rings,” he said.
He believes there are other options including looking at the amount of money put into athletic coaching salaries.
“The amount of money that goes into the athletic fund from the general fund is approximately $600,000 a year,” Waldron said. “And I was actually in favor of looking at that a little harder than we did.”
Still, Waldron said no other option has competed with the money saved from closing the school.
“I was against closing Eastside until earlier this year and I changed my mind because there wasn’t really any good argument to cut something else over closing Eastside,” he said. “This year it’s almost a crisis we’ve got to save money or we’re going into defecit spending in the next few years and we can’t do that, that’s illegal. Or we have to lay off a bunch more teachers.”
Harrell hopes to see a strong turnout at the board meeting on Monday night.
“I’d ask them to put themselves in my shoes,” he said of critics, adding that if the situation were different and another neighborhood school were being closed he’d “fight for their kids.”
He also said he believes Eastside students are being “segregated” as “kids with money are going to Ballard” and “kids at the north side of the tracks” are to be sent to Howard Elementary School.
Daniels said he’s sorry to see so many dissatisfied with the decision to move ahead with the Eastside closure and a lack of alternatives.
“I guess the reaction I have is some dissapointment to the fact that I haven’t seen any solutions presented by any of the people involved,” Daniels said. “I know that (Harrell) met with (former superintendent Doug Law) a few times, I think the whole group did and I’ve seen nothing from them that gives me an idea of what they’d like to see. They don’t like what we did but don’t have an alternative.
“The people involved should have listened to us about four years ago when we said if we don’t pass the bond issue, one of the problems we said (was) Eastside only has about five more years and it’s five more years,” he said. “I guess I would ask those who are doing the recall petitions if they voted for that bond, and if they voted no, they made their own decision. If they voted at all.”