The Eau Claire school board will consider proposed north side elementary school boundary changes next month.
The board’s Demographic Trends and Facilities Committee on Thursday approved a new recommendation that would alter all north side elementary boundaries for the 2020-21 school year. The recommendation would also keep Roosevelt Elementary School open.
The committee had originally recommended that Roosevelt be shuttered and re-purposed into a center for 4-year-old kindergarten, as the district had a need for additional space for that programming, and could’ve redistributed the students to other north side elementary schools that had space — including Sam Davey, Northwoods, Lakeshore, Longfellow, Locust Lane and Sherman.
The recommendation sparked anger and frustration from Roosevelt parents, who lamented the possibility of losing their beloved neighborhood school after previous district promises to update and improve the school’s current facilities.
The proposal was the district’s cheapest option, with a cost between $17.5 million and $21 million, according to district projections. The two other options — retaining Roosevelt as an elementary school and expanding the facility to accommodate enrollment or redrawing school boundaries — had projected costs of at least more than $30 million.
But after the board on Monday approved implementation of a Spanish dual immersion program at Longfellow Elementary School for the 2019-20 school year, the committee’s original recommendation is no longer feasible in terms of space.
Dave Fitzgerald, a member of the Demographic Trends and Facilities Committee, expressed frustration that the school board chose to approve the dual immersion program on the premise that it would only cost from $46,608 to $88,008 in its first year.
The real cost, Fitzgerald said, is now having to find alternate facility solutions for 4K.
“Was the school board aware that the real cost of the Spanish immersion program was millions and millions of dollars, and not the number that was released to the public? Because if they are, that’s not very transparent to the public ... And if that’s the case, I’m appalled,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve locked us into a solution that locks us and the taxpayers into a lot more money.”
Tim Nordin, another member of the committee, said he supports the Spanish dual immersion program and although he wishes the board would’ve came to a decision sooner, he believes they should proceed now with realigning all north side elementary boundaries.
Nordin, who is running for a seat on the school board in the April 2 election, said the committee can focus on solutions for space needs for 4K programming and at elementary schools on the south side later.
“We should do this now because there is pain for those families that have to transition, whenever we set that line,” Nordin said.
Students also are experiencing the negative impacts of over- and under-crowded schools, Nordin said. Some schools have too many students in too small of a space, he said, and are forced to utilize teacher lounges with no windows as classrooms because there aren’t enough regular rooms. Other schools, Nordin said, have less access to school-provided services because they are so under-crowded that it doesn’t make sense to spend money on full-time services there.
“I think it’s time we say this is one thing we know, one thing we’ve done the work on that is a good solution,” Nordin said. “It’s not going to make everybody happy. But it addresses the issues we have to deal with for $0.”
The committee unanimously voted on recommendations that would alter all north side elementary boundaries for the 2020-21 school year. Under that recommendation — a previously drawn map that was slightly altered at the meeting — all schools’ capacities are projected to hover between 69 and 79 percent.
“It’s a recommendation that will hold for awhile,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s about the only thing we can do. It’s not what I would’ve liked to have done as a taxpayer, but it’s been what we’ve been pushed into.”
In addition, the committee approved a motion asking the school board to send two members to each committee meeting. Previously, board members Charles Vue and Lori Bica were assigned to the committee, but since the last April election, no board members have regularly attended the committee’s meetings.
“I think it’s well worth their time to be at these meetings,” said committee member Anne Hartman.
Kim Koller, executive director of district administration who serves as a liaison to the committee, said the recommendation will likely be presented to the board April 1 or 15.
To view maps and more information about the boundary changes, visit ecasd.us/District/Board-of-Education/4K-Elementary-Enrollments.