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UPDATE: D161 Board Will Vote Again to Close Mary Drew

The Summit Hill school district board has set a special meeting for Tuesday, Feb. 28, after a grievance was filed, claiming the public wasn't properly told that the board would be discussing closing the elementary school at last week's meeting.

  • UPDATED (5:50 a.m. Monday, Feb. 27): Information from board President Mary Kenny.

The board of education for Summit Hill School District 161 will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the district offices redo its vote concerning the closing of , said board President Mary Kenny on Sunday.

A community member filed a grievance Friday that the board didn't sufficiently notify the public that it would be taking action to close the school at its Feb. 22 meeting, Kenny said. The closing was included under the "Planning for the Future" agenda item at last week's meeting, .

READ:

Although board members can discuss items that aren't on the agenda during a public meeting, a 2002 state appellate court ruling prohibits them from taking action on those items, according to an Open Meetings Act handbook put together by the Illinois Association of School Boards.

The agenda for Tuesday's meeting, which was posted some time Saturday, lists the school's closing as its only item. Public comments also will be part of the meeting, something that is dictated by law, Kenny said. However, it will only be limited to one time during the beginning of the meeting, instead of the board's usual practice of having two opportunities.

Although Tuesday's meeting was set up simply to re-vote on the closing in order to make the action official and valid, Kenny said board members could still discuss the matter.

"You know how it goes," she said. "A motion is put on the table and then anyone can ask questions or give comments. That's when all hell breaks loose."

Kenny said she also has heard that some district parents are going to "parade their children" through the board meeting room to protest the decision to close the school. It's not a demonstration that Kenny finds to be in good taste.

"How sick is that?" she said.

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News of the special meeting had spread online by Saturday night. Kelly Meister, who runs the Keep Our Schools Open-Summit Hill Dist 161 Facebook page, posted this message along with a link to Tuesday's agenda on the district's website:

District 161 parents!!! We need your help..Please attend Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 at District for a re-vote on closing Mary Drew!! WE HAVE TO BE HEARD..IT IS OUR RIGHT TO HAVE PUBLIC COMMENT..WE WILL NOT GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT..ALL 161 PARENTS AND STUDENTS SHOULD ATTEND BECAUSE THIS BOARD IS GETTING AWAY WITH STUFF THAT IS NOT RIGHT. NOT ONLY WILL IT AFFECT MARY DREW KIDS, IT WILL AFFECT ALL THE KIDS IN OUR DISTRICT!! WE HAVE TO LET THEM KNOW WE ARE NOT TOLERATING THEIR ATTITUDES AND THEIR RASH DECISIONS AT OUR EXPENSE....

A group of parents also met Sunday to discuss plans for how they should mobilize for Tuesday's meeting.

The decision to close Mary Drew comes as the district struggles with a $3 million budget deficit over the next three years. The board has set a goal to cut at least $1.4 million this year, and closing the elementary school would put $500,000 toward that.

Initially, , but . Board members also are streamlining district expenses, but .

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The constant delays when it comes to making substantial cuts and progress on the budget are a source of frustration for Kenny, one that is sending the wrong idea to community members, as well as wasting time while the deficit grows. Kenny cited an added $300,000 that was added to 2012-13 expenses in the two weeks between the board's vote on full-day kindergarten and closing Mary Drew. Those expenses include a technology update, building maintenance and the cost of retirement for Hilda Walker Intermediate School Principal Jan Zevkovich.

"I think it's a big problem," she said. "Parents now think if they make enough noise, someone on that board is going to change their vote."

"We have to worry about the entire district," Kenny added. "We could table it and table it, and it would be too late. Just looking at what has happened in the last two weeks, we've had another $300,000 added to the budget. ... There's no guarantee that we're not going to have a whole bunch of those bumps. Keeping a school open when it's just draining money is going to make your deficit more, not less."

workingtogether February 27, 2012 at 01:10 AM
I am glad they will be revoting on this issue. Maybe they will decide to wait a year and change their vote. I will say that I have been getting blasted with emails of petitions and groups rallying to go to the meeting and that is great, but I think people need to be aware some things have to go. We can't have all our schools open and no programs cut. It is going to be most likely schools and some programs, but by closing schools in an effective way we can hopefully save all programs and trim down others or add fees to help compensate. I love the enthusiasm and the community coming together, but I have yet to see anything offereing the board alternatives other than we won't let you close our schools. I guess I don't understand why school closings(if researched and done at the same time to make the redistricting a one time thing) if done in an effective way are bad. If we kept all teachers at the current enrollment numbers our classes would be under 22(most at 20) if they spread the kids out as evenly as possible in 3 schools and closed two. The schools that remained open can easily do this. I do not find those numbers to be too high for our students to be successful. Our programs are the pillars that hold all of our students up. Start tearing those down and everything will start to crumble. Then we will have to lower our high district standards.
Reality Check, Please February 27, 2012 at 03:40 AM
I agree with what you state about the enthusiasm of our district, and with 3 out of 5 schools under 50% capacity, it appears wasteful.  If we transfer students AND teachers to other schools, the result will not be the increase in class size I've seen others claim. If there is in increase in a school of the number of students requiring a specialist, and they are documented, the school has to provide those resources. Would those that oppose closing a school and not proposing any cuts prefer to see our district fall deeper into financial distress so that all schools suffer from lack of funding?
taxpayer February 27, 2012 at 04:38 AM
I agree. If parents "voices" are infact heard and they decide not to close MD, then something else will be on the chopping block. The Board has said that by raising class sizes and eliminating teachers would help close the gap. Will the parents of 161 be satisified with seeing teachers go instead of a school?? We have TOO many schools. It makes zero sense to keep all these schools open when not a single one is at or near capacity. People really need to wake up. I am not going to vote for raising my taxes just to see those extra dollars going toward heating/air conditioning 1/2 occupied buildings. This is just insane.
Educated taxpayer February 27, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Everyone is so worried about how this one decision will affect their children, and rightfully so. But dont forget about the other children in the district. If this new vote reverses the decision to close MD, then someobody please explain where the $500000 is going to come from. Maybe your kids dont need help with reading, maybe your kids arent in the gifted program, maybe your kids dont take the bus, maybe your kids dont play sports or join other extra curriculars... But what about ALL the other kids that do? The money has to come from somewhere... The growth in enrollment isnt happening, which was the reason for renovating and opening MD in the first place. The kids and many of the teachers will go to other schools which will help boost their enrollments. Sure, some people may lose their jobs, unfortunately that is a part of life in these economic times. As someone who works in higher education the picture is no better there, maybe worse with more funding, whatever little is left, being tied to performance. It is sink or swim nowadays and we have to make the hard decisions. Nobody wants to make them, and maybe we dont agree with how these decisions are being made, but once we look past our own hurt feelings we have to see in the long run, for the best of ALL our kids, this is the right decision.
Reality Check, Please February 27, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Couldn't agree more!
workingtogether February 27, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I also think what is proposed on the one petition I saw as far as increased fees etc are a great way to help in the future years, but do not come close to covering the savings to keep schools open. Maybe that could also be implemented in the up coming year to postpone the school closings until next year. I think the board will not even listen to not closing a school, but if there were some good proposals for holding off a year maybe it wouldn't fall on deaf ears. Will the revenue(if even possible) outweigh the cost to renivate another school. Also the kids will benefit more when the schools are closed at the same time and they do not have to be redistricted twice. I wish these are the things the board would take into consideration.
161parent/taxpayer February 27, 2012 at 02:42 PM
It is hard to believe this board and what financial shape we are actually in when they added about $400,000 in salary and benefits after passing an unbalanced budget. Added Asst. Sup., Asst. Principal at Rogus, and InSchool Suspension teacher, all positions that did not exist previous to this year. In terms of Mary Drew, I am not opposed to closing a school, however I do not believe it makes sense to close the school we as taxpayers just spent $39 million to help renovate. If this building is turned into a storage facility it will be a complete joke. We will have a $39 mil. storage facility but a school that needs $1 mil. in renovations, is not 911 compliant, and has the phones go out when it rains will remain open. (My son is scheduled to attend Indian Trail next year so this is not a slam on the school, just stating fact). If we are going to in fact have to close two schools when all is said and done then this should be done after next school year so that we can close the correct two schools for the most cost savings and only have to redistrict once. This year should be spent on raising fees, budget cut backs, eliminate postions that can be consolidated or are underutilized. Each building should have to cut 10% from it budget including the Admin Center. The big ticket items should be done next year after we have collected and shared all the data and we have a new business manager in place to check our situation.
concerned parent/taxpayer February 27, 2012 at 03:53 PM
I totally agree with 161 parent/taxpayer. We need to be asking more questions as a community! I remember there was a TON of planning, charts, data, financial figures, projections etc... when we looked at renovating Mary Drew. Now we have powerpoint that says "we will save $500,000 to close Mary Drew" Really? Where is all the other data? This board is bulldozing this idea through without any plan. And I would like to know WHY? What's the big hurry to close a school without gathering all the facts and financial information? Everyone in this district should be asking that question. If they make quick, rash decisions about something as big as closing a school, what's next?
Support161 February 27, 2012 at 04:22 PM
The thing that you non- Mary Drew people aren't realizing is that this affects you. Your children or your children's freinds may not be going to the same schools next year either. They aren't just going to simply take our kids and fill in the gaps at your schools. Every school will likely have changes. It isn't about Mary Drew. They will likely want to close another school and perhaps full day kindegarten in the years to come. All we are asking them to do is make a comprehensible plan that may involve a lot of cuts at once. Imagine the result of closing Mary Drew this year, then another school next year. Your child may be moved to another school to make room for Mary Drew kids. Then next year, another move. We have a fifteen million dollar surplus presently. This board is eager to make changes. They want to undo all the wrongs that they feel were committed by Keith Pain and the last board. While things need to be changed, incremental "undoing" isn't necessarily wise or fiscally responsible. We should take a breath, step back and look at the big picture. Take a year, make the changes ONCE. The results will probably save money and headaches in the long run. People, don't brush this off, it is about all of District 161, not just Mary Drew. Please show up tomorrow and see the way this board is operating.
Support161 February 27, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Reserve not surplus
workingtogether February 27, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I totally understand this and will be impacted by it. I just feel this is the better alternative to cutting programs. That will impact our children even worse. I'd rather my child's class size increased to 20-22 and they all will meet up again at HW. That won't impact as much as extras, reading specialists, FDK etc getting cut will impact. Even if your child doesn't need these things other kids not benefitting from these programs hurts all our children when they lower the standards so that all children can be successful. Without this extra help that will be the only option to help the kids who are struggling. Some families cannot afford extra outside activities so by cutting the less expensive school ones it will hurt children. Those issues do not impact my family as much as the school closing, but would willingly sacrafice those things to save programs.
dist 161, open your eyes February 27, 2012 at 05:08 PM
This board has stacked the deck in their favor to get whatever they want done, without any explanation. Ask yourselves- why the big rush without any facts and planning? Well, they have all their ducks in a row to get the vote they want now. After this next election, when most of them will be ousted, they will not have the votes. Let's look at some facts: (1) 13-14 people applied for the open board seat, and it was filled by an old board member and Mary Kenny supporter, Denise Wildeveld. This was done without the board interviewing all of the candidates. (2) Barb Rains was promoted as the new Superintendent, a position she was not qualified for, instead of doing a search for a qualified candidate. Why? Barb has said she looks to the board for direction. This is not the way it works. The Superintendent is supposed to LEAD the board. We have someone in this position that does whatever Mary Kenny wants. I have no confidence in this board. They are making quick, rash decisions without any planning and thought. We don’t have the parent committee input, we don’t have our grant status update, we don’t have our business manager, we don’t have an ACTUAL PLAN with everything spelled out! There are good revenue proposals out there, that will give us a year plan properly. This board needs to slow down and make appropriate small budget trimming this year, and get the facts before making any big decisions!
Kerri U February 27, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I believe that Barb is working to do what is best for our district. She supported that role and worked alongside Pain for years. I have had contact with her and she is performing audits to the viability of extracurricular activites to see if there are any reasonable places to make cuts. She is putting in the effort that we are paying her for. I do agree that the filling of the position with an old member who was previously voted out by the community is wrong. She shouldn't have been eligible since the community already spoke when they voted her out. I also agree that they are feeling the pressure from so many places that they are moving quickly on decisions. They also have the hardest economic times that have been in our area in decades. I can see both sides. They will never be able to make these tough decisions and make every constituent happy. They should consider postponing a vote on anything major until all the financial information is correct and up-to-date.
dist 161, open your eyes February 27, 2012 at 06:49 PM
The due dilligence was not done with the Superintendent position. It was another hasty decision orchestrated by Mary Kenny. Barb may be putting in the extra work and doing a great job behind the scenes, however no one would know that because in the public forum she takes all her direction from the board. Her job is to LEAD the board. We need someone tough enough to stand up to board members that are bulldozing over the public and their concerns. Mary Kenny is downright rude, look at the quotes from her in this article and her behavior at the last board meeting. She has a personal agenda to close this school, without presenting any solid facts as to why. This whole process is shameful!
get real February 27, 2012 at 08:33 PM
I understand something has to be done but whay does Arbrury School never gets touched? They still will have the lowest class size to any other school
DIst 161 Parent February 27, 2012 at 08:55 PM
I feel for the parents at Mary Drew but honestly this is a difficult decision that had to be made. Mary Drew has been open for 4 years. The kids will go to the original schools that they would have before Mary Drew. This tough decision is better for ALL kids in the long run. If the kids lost programs or even "specials" that would be the worst. As difficult as this is we need to work together and move on. Continue attending meetings and stay informed. I hope people will remember that tomorrow. For the sake of ALL CHILDREN we need to act like adults and work together.
DIst 161 Parent February 27, 2012 at 08:58 PM
I would also like to add that I agree, we should have done a search for a superintendent and a new board member. Get real do you think attacking other schools in OUR district will help? All of kids will be together at Walker and Summit Hill. Let's work TOGETHER, not against each other.
Rose C February 27, 2012 at 09:02 PM
@ 161/taxpayer - the renovations to the old Summit Hill Jr High aka MD amounted to $9 million not $39 million. I called the district office for that figure. @ open your eyes - those are some great accusations you're hurling around. Had the board waited to blindly hire a new super, we could be in an even worse situation than we are now. Everyone looks good on paper. Mrs. Rains has been the hardest working most transparent Superintendent this district has ever seen. Also the idea of stacking the deck is laughable. It has been 4 to 3 votes on anything that really matters over the past 4 years. Thank goodness they don't agree on everything! Where would we be then?! @workingtogether you make a lot of sense. I hope you or someone like you with an open mind and understanding of the big picture steps up to run for the board next spring. And to everyone else - I'll say this one last time - $1 million dollars in renovations need to be done to Indian Trail in the next 5 years, so it will take 3 years before we see any tangible savings from MD. The 1st 2 years of savings will be dumped into Indian Trail. Seems to me that if the average school saves $500k per year, the savings from closing Trail would be $3 million over the 3 year plan, and just think - not one educational program would need to be cut. Problem solved.
DIst 161 Parent February 27, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Rose are you suggesting that Trail be the school that be most beneficial to close? Also I never suggested that Barb Raines isn't doing a good job. I just feel like we should have looked at multiple candidates. I also agree that we need someone to look at big picture steps.
Tim H February 27, 2012 at 09:13 PM
I agree with Kerri U. They should consider postponing a vote on anything major until all the financial information is correct and up-to-date. If they have the data to back up the decision to close Mary Drew, then fine. It just seems like they made that decision without being able to provide the public the detailed reasoning behind it.
dist 161, open your eyes February 27, 2012 at 10:03 PM
We should close NO SCHOOL this year. The board has done a great job of pitting parents against each other by putting three schools on the chopping block right off the bat. That way, everyone's so busy defending their school, that no one looks at the big picture. This is a 3 YEAR PLAN. They need to get all the facts and data compiled before making these huge decisions. The community needs to band together and request a full and complete plan before any big cuts are made. I agree with Support 161 "We should take a breath, step back and look at the big picture. Take a year, make the changes ONCE. The results will probably save money and headaches in the long run. People, don't brush this off, it is about all of District 161, not just Mary Drew. Please show up tomorrow and see the way this board is operating".
1Mom February 28, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Reality Check, Please: Mary Drew is not under 50%. The January 11 board presentation projected 48% capacity for MD but the next board meeting it was projected at 52%. I understand that choices need to be made. However, capacity cannot be met unless we have large class sizes. Capacity is calculated by architects and is not calculated by our class size guidelines.
1Mom February 28, 2012 at 02:45 AM
I would just like to note that I appreciate the logic and respectful discussion in this thread. I despise the name calling and bashing I have seen on other threads.
161parent/taxpayer February 28, 2012 at 03:23 AM
@Rose C if $9 million is the correct number then I stand corrected but that would mean we would have a $9 mil storage facility. Again that make zero sense. This decision is the easy way out of making the truly difficult decision to close our budget issues. Let's just send everyone back to their "old" school. Again if the district is $3 mil in the red the board is going to have to close 2 schools. I stand by my statement that more research needs to be done and any school closing(s) should take place after next school year so that we only need to have student change schools once and redistrict once. I agree with Indian Trail possibly closing it is my home school but it makes no sense to keep open if the district is going to use a building as a storage facility.
Um yeah February 28, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Just to clarify the superintendent is an employee of the board; not the other way around
Connie February 28, 2012 at 04:15 AM
This is where you are wrong, all of our kids are not going to go back to their original schools. Trust me all of our kids are going to be affected by this and all class sizes at every school are going to be at the district guideline. I hope all people from every school sees that. Every kid in this district 1-4 will be affected by this. Don't think that because your schools aren't affected by this that their class sizes won't change!!!! No one knows until the end of March where kids are going. Get to the meeting tomorrow and get informed. This is about our community and all kids, not just those being moved from Mary Drew!
Connie February 28, 2012 at 04:18 AM
So True!!!!!!!!
Connie February 28, 2012 at 04:21 AM
We can leave all the comments we want and they are great, but please make it a point no matter what school you are from to come to this meeting tomorrow. Trust me, it isn't just about MD, it is about every school in this district. All kids will be affected and all schools will be as well. Come and hear what this board has to say, and what the community has to say. I just hope the board truly listens to what the community says and is willing to do. Don't make a drastic decision to close any school or any programming for our kids!

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