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UPDATED: D161 Board Votes to Close Mary Drew Elementary School

After a fierce debate among members, the Summit Hill school board approved closing the elementary school for 2012-13 in a 4-3 vote.

  • UPDATED (12:47 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23)

Only a couple hours after students gave presentations before its members, the Summit Hill School District 161 board voted 4-3 to close the school as part of its ongoing budget-cutting process.

Two weeks ago, the board changed course with its three-year financial plan, after deciding .

After the vote, board president Mary Kenny asked that discussion concerning the possibility of closing one to two district schools in the 2012-13 school year be put on the agenda for the Wednesday, Feb. 22, meeting.

Who Voted Against It and Why

Board members Sean William Doyle, George Perros and Stacey Borgens voted against the closing, saying more time and information was needed before taking the action of closing a school.

During the meeting, Doyle and Perros strongly contended that the board--and the community--needed more specific facts before it decided to close Mary Drew or any school. Perros questioned what the exact plans were for what to do with Mary Drew once it was closed, as well as requesting exact numbers on how much would be saved by shuttering it.

LIVE BLOG: Click on the Blog Above to Read the Transcript of Last Night's Events

"Are we going to rent it, sell it, mothball it?" Perros said. "Generalities are one thing, but I don't think we've done the specific research. ... I have not seen the data that says we need to close a school now."

Perros also questioned why Mary Drew was chosen, given how well the school had performed on state tests. He also asked why older schools, such as Arbury Hills or Indian Trails, weren't considered, saying Indian Trails faces about $1 million in repair work.

Although built in 1974, Mary Drew was renovated three years ago. It also faces about $600,000 in roof repair work, said board Vice President Joy Murphy.

Earlier in week, Doyle and Perros gave Supt. Barb Rains alternative budget cuts to look at that would keep all the schools open, while providing the district the savings it needed. But Kenny said many of those cuts were already factored in under the board's streamlining model. Of the remaining reductions, Kenny said they weren't enough to reach the board's goal of cutting $1.4 million for 2012-13.

Who Voted For It and Why

Board President Mary Kenny, board Vice President Joy Murphy, board Secretary Denise Lenz and board member Denise Wildeveld voted to close Mary Drew, with the understanding that the board needs to cut "big-ticket items" if its going to reduce its deficit.

"I didn't want to do it, but we had to do something," said Murphy, who supported cutting the full-day kindergarten first before closing a school. "We owe it to the taxpayers."

The board chose Mary Drew on the recommendation of Rains, Murphy said. and elementary schools also and might still be closed in the following years as a way to streamline district operations and eliminate the deficit.

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Of those three schools, Mary Drew is the closest to capacity at about 52 percent (Arbury Hills is at 41 percent, and Frankfort Square is at 34 percent) and has the district's highest percentage of students who meet and exceeds standards on state testing.

Mary Drew is connected to the district's administrative offices, which would be a selling point for parties interested in leasing the space, Murphy said. Also, it gives the district a better option if it should ever want to reopen the school if the economy recovers, Lenz said during the meeting.

How Much This Will Save

The baseline estimate the district would save by closing Mary Drew would be about $500,000, . This only factors in savings from section reductions, building overhead and district overhead and positions, the model shows. Although class-size maximums would not change, the model indicates there would be a 5 percent staff reduction with the closing.

Other factors that could affect this estimate but not factored in to the model include transportation costs and the rental of the building.

However, the board still has a long way to go to reaching its $1.4 million in cuts that it wants to achieve for the 2012-13 school year. With the closing of Mary Drew, the district only has created an estimated $800,000 in savings.

What About Teachers?

Board members were emphatic that Mary Drew teachers would move with the students, something many parents upset with the closing were skeptical about.

"The model says there's going to be a reduction in staff," said Ericka Soroko, who has two children who would have attended Mary Drew next year. "You can't tell me all of those teachers are going to be going to other schools."

But Murphy said any teacher reductions would not come only from Mary Drew, but it would be spread throughout the district. She also said that Mary Drew Principal Kathy Klein would not be let go from the district, but Murphy didn't know any specifics.

Earlier in Wednesday's meeting, the board announced the retirement of Principal Jan Zevkovich, and one district resident suggested during public comments that board fill that open position with Klein.

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Before the vote on closing Mary Drew was taken, Scott Smalter, president for Summit Hill's teachers' union, said the executive board met and decided against opening up the teachers' contract early. The contract expires at the end of the next school year, and a contractual pay increase in it is one of the contributing reasons the board is facing a tough financial situation.

Parent Reactions

District parents who attended Wednesday's meeting knew school closings were on the agenda, but many like Jen Vargas weren't prepared for Mary Drew to be the one to get the ax.

"I'm embarrassed to be a taxpayer in this community," said Vargas, a mother of five and president of the Athletic Boosters for and schools.

, months after initial school closing discussions began centering around Arbury Hills and Frankfort Square elementary schools.

After the meeting, Soroko, who yelled, "Why didn't you listen to us before you made that decision?" before storming out, was visibly upset over the closing.

"I don't know what I'm going to tell my kids," she said, adding that she and other parents look at the people who worked and attended Mary Drew as family.

Soroko said she didn't think it was fair that supporters of the district's full-day kindergarten (Soroko would have supported cutting the program) were able to express their opposition to the idea at earlier board meetings. Mary Drew families didn't have the same forum because the final decision was sprung on them Wednesday, she added, admitting her feelings were biased and shaded by the fact that she had children in the school.

One parent, Tony Pietrzak, said Thursday he was organizing a group of parents that would petition the board to reconsider its decision on full-day kindergarten, as well as hire an outside consulting firm to develop the best financial plan for dealing with the district's $3 million projected deficit over three years. Pietrzak, who has two children that attend Mary Drew, also applied for the open board position recently filled by Denise Wildeveld.

"They're flying by the seat of their pants," said Pietrzak, who is against closing any school. "Not really listening to the community at the meetings. Not taking out advice. What do we do to make them listen."

What's Next?

Now, Rains and her staff will work on putting together the 2012-13 school year budget, hammering out the details of what will be cut before presenting it to the board. This also will include a plan on what needs to be done when it comes to Mary Drew's closing.

Also, the budget cut suggestions by Doyle, Perros and other board members will be reviewed and added to eliminating the $3 million deficit, Murphy said.

"I want to fill that pot as quick as we can without hurting the kids," she said. "They only get one chance to go through the system."

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Connie February 25, 2012 at 08:01 PM
@ Rose, you are correct, this district is in a hot mess and no one will move into this area. Hence the reason that this school board should have had all of their facts in place and presented everything to the community before a decision was made. Who will move into this area knowing that they make these hasty decisions. It absolutely makes us all look bad. These decisions are tearing apart out community instead of bring us together.
Rose C February 26, 2012 at 02:16 AM
@Actions - Why don't you come forward with your REAL name so we can scrutinize all of your actions, then if you look great on paper, we could vote for you next spring. That way when the hard decisions come up we can tell you that you should be ashamed of yourself for making the unpopular decision. Bottomline it's so easy to sit at your computer and complain - step into the hot seat, 4 of them will be up for election next spring. Then you could show us all how much smarter and what amazing leadership skills you have.
Rose C February 26, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Connie- the past few meetings are the first EVER to be attended by more than just a handful of community members. Every meeting board members receive information. Ask any of them. This voluntary position - because of the state of the district - has turned in to a full time unpaid job. At this point every decision is tearing our community apart because people are acting any decision is one step closer to disaster. Has the community done all of their homework? Again, I think there was no evidence showing that MD or any other school needed to be closed this year. But I have to ask the community that is outraged - did you vote last April? If you didn't vote - which less than 25% of our community did - don't they say you have no right to complain, we brought this on ourselves.
Citizen February 26, 2012 at 04:59 AM
Rose, I think we can all agree that previous administrations lack of planning have contributed our current crisis. That being said, this board has also spent carelessly-the most obvious example would be the ISS teachers. Even more glaring than the wasteful spending is the lack of planning. We should have been looking for answers to the budget issues long before December. At the last meeting it was announced that the HW Principal will be retiring early. Many in the community feel the the board will not offer a contract to the Principal of Frankfort Square, (she also may choose to retire early) or the SHJH Principal, I believe both of these women are tenured and will have to be offered jobs within our district. Does anyone know what the early retirements will cost our district? Are any other administrators considering the early retirement option? The largest line on my tax bill goes to Summit Hill District 161- I have the right to complain!
Stella Nyder February 26, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Good Morning Everyone, I am happy that the Board has heard your concerns by your persistence and I hope all the issues will be addressed prior to re-voting. Is anyone thinking of how this would impact the Mary Drew Kids? ILast week, the Principal held an assembly to inform the students of MD pending closure. If the Board votes differently now having to tell students that their school isn't closing after all. This confusing and mixed message causes them to feel unsafe.This tells them that the authority figures in their life arn't trustworthy(Board and Administration vs.the Mary Drew community).This dynamic happens in dysfunctional families and it is called splitting! My message to parents who are meeting to give a "united" front. I am asking you to fight fair as you are a part of the district community and your agenda will impact all of us. Please BE RESPECTFUL of our elected officials and especially BE RESPECTFUL at the special meeting.(talk of impeachment, news media,getting the state involved,filing a grievance,shouting during Board meetings,storming out, interrupting, accusing and being unkind.) I personally will not be present at the special meeting on Tues., I do not want to get emotionally upset and lose sleep because of potential inappropriate outbursts and disruptive behavior from community members! Would you expose your child to a potentially volatile Board meeting? I would not!
taxpayer February 26, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Well said Stella. So, I say to everyone going to protest the closing of MD, I sure do hope you have a better plan then closing schools, and present that to the board. Going to the board meeting, and listing why you think closing MD isn't going to fill the 3mil. hole we are in. Not a single school is at capacity or close to it. Schools need to be closed. Fighting to keep MD open, and closing a different school is only going to shift the anger to another set of parents, and upset another group of kids. So if they change their mind and keep MD open, then what? This craziness needs to end. Parents of this community need to come together for the sake of our children. Our Board needs to make tough decisions which are not going to make everyone happy. The Board isn't closing schools to be spiteful, or to purposly tick of the community, they are doing it because its necessary. What I hope to gain out of going to the meeting is learning as to WHY MD was chosen, and what their plan for that empty school, anything more than that is a bonus.
Stella Nyder February 27, 2012 at 04:18 AM
Agreed Tracy... I am in total agreement in having to remind Board members to be respectful of each other. I totally agree that it is very important modeling for the kids and teaching them to stand up for themselves. Your message is heard loud and clear. I wouldn't intentionally squash hope, and you are right I am choosing to be passive on this one. You guys are doing all the hard work and I know everyone including our Board is trying to do what is in the best interest of the students.
taxpayer February 27, 2012 at 04:52 AM
Tracy, I respectfully would be more than willing to sign a petition when the Board has exhausted all options when trying to close the budget gap. But honestly, our buildings are a 1/2 capacity. If no school's are closed, then they will go with their plan to cut teachers and raise class sizes. I also am not fond of paying higher taxes just so we can continue to pay high utilities such as heat and air condition on 1/2 occupied buildings. So lets say they do decide to keep MD open, and then close 2 smaller schools at the next board meeting, then what?? Our district is done seeing growth and if anything, our student growth is only going to decrease over the next several years. We need to adapt, make changes, and get our district back to being financially sound. I refuse to see things cut that any child can benefit from academically, just so we can keep all these buildings opened. It doesn't matter if the Board closes schools this year or next year, people will still be outraged. This board or the future board will never make the community happy when cuts have to be made, plain and simple.
taxpayer February 27, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I am sorry if I hit a nerve. I am NOT preaching how great this board is. I actually think most of this board needs to go, and am not a fan, but I also know that something needs to give. I have been to almost ALL board meetings for the past 1 1/2 years. Everything they are talking about isn't new to me, its just new to people who are just now getting involved. I just don't see how postponing the inevitable will solve anything. You are correct, we need 2 schools closed but I for one, will not agree to pay higher taxes until I see true cuts. Administration cuts, heathcare cuts, etc. I was also at the meeting last year when they voted to eliminate the late fee and offer an incentive for early registration for school year 2012-2013. That has been voted on and passed so, raising fees this year isn't even an option until school year 2013-2014. I agree also, the way they voted and decided to close Mary Drew without putting it on the agenda was wrong and I'm sure violated some rules. But the fact of the matter is, their plan has been for quite some time was to close a school or two this year. If nothing gets cut this year, the craziness will not end. Next year, the Board will have no option but to drop the hammer and cut 2 schools, HD Kindergarten, higher fees, teachers will go, etc. The community will not be happy if its this year or next year.
taxpayer February 27, 2012 at 03:16 PM
@Tracy, I also understand that your petition isn't about higher taxes. Others have suggested that, and that is the route the Board will try and go THIS YEAR if true cuts are not made.
DIst 161 Parent February 28, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Taxpayer, well said on all points AND for being respectful while posting. This crusade to keep Mary Drew open will not help our district. Mary Drew has been open for 4 years. The students will go to the schools they were originally zoned for. Something has to give. Cutting activities, specials and raising fees does NOT benefit ALL children in the district.
taxpayer February 28, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Please read my posts......I do not believe it will end with closing Mary Drew, I believe its just a start. Also, MD, Rogus and IT have the biggest population with 300+ kids, if they close 2 of the bigger schools, you will definately see class sizes increase. From my understanding only Rogus and MD are up to code which makes closing and renting out the other 3 schools not an option. No matter if they are kept open or closed, money will still have to be spent on upgrads and bringing those buildings up to code before they can ever be rented out. So say that the Board presents the "facts" at the next regular board meeting as to why MD is to be closed, has a comparison chart as to savings for each school, where that savings is, what the savings money will be used for, etc. Will you be happy with the decision? Please don't think I am attacking, I am just baffled that people just don't want "their" school closed, anyother school is fine. Quite honestly, I want whichever school that will save us the mose money and the school we can make the most money off of from rental. If a complaint if filed everytime a school is mentioned for closure, nothing will be done. Keep in mind, even if they chose to keep MD opened, and close FS and Aubury, those schools also will not be rentable because they are not up to code. We will STILL have to dump money into them before we can rent them out.
taxpayer February 28, 2012 at 04:26 AM
Thank you, and thank you for seeing the big picture. If the revote goes a different direction, I fear they will close sections, cut teachers and go with higher class sizes. Then ALL children in the district will suffer, all so we can continue to maintain 5 buildings that are at 60% capacity or lower. I understand emotions are running high and no one wants their home schools closed but 2 schools will eventually go and it will be the community against each other preaching as to why their school is better than the one next door. It breaks my heart.
A Concerned Parent February 28, 2012 at 01:18 PM
I keep hearing all this talk about schools not being up to code. Can someone please tell me where you found that information so I can go and read it for myself? And can someone tell me exactly what "up to code" entails? Are we talking about fire safety items or what? How long have the schools not been "up to code"? Were they up to code before Mary Drew was open or has this "up to code" problem been a long time thing? @Tracy -- you seem to mention this "up to code" thing quite a bit -- perhaps you can help me and let me know where you read about this. Thanks.
A Concerned Parent February 28, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Hmmmm... well Tracy maybe since you don't know someone else on this comment board can help me. Does anyone know what "up to code" means and where I can find information on which schools in our district are not up to code? I've looked everywhere I can think to look. Has anyone called Mrs. Rains and if so, what was her answer? Would they even know? Are there varying degress of "up to code"? Anyone? Anyone? I will send an email to Mrs. Rains if no one here can help me.
A Concerned Parent February 28, 2012 at 01:52 PM
@Tracy -- also, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, if you don't know what "up to code" means and you haven't read it anywhere other than someone else's post on this board, maybe you shouldn't repeat it in your posts. Because really, the person's post you read it in might be just saying it to strike fear in people's hearts that their kids are in an unsafe school. Who knows what their motivation might be. I think that it is a real problem here that people are just repeating what they hear from other people without having the facts to back them up. Let's just please stick to the facts. Thank you.
Rose C February 28, 2012 at 06:47 PM
@ Tracy, With all due respect, not all of us can afford to pay for transportation, especially if we have more than one child in school. I recognize that our registration fees are on the low side, but when you multiply if out by 3 kids it's a pinch. I remember hearing that at least 10% of our students are on the free & reduced program - that's $51,000 in registration fees we will never see. So you want to punish the rest of us who are doing our best to make ends meet? I'm pretty sure you do not have the majority of parents, when you say that parents wanted to see fees increased. I do not want to see a school closed. I will not vote for a referrendum. So I do recognize the savings needs to come from somewhere. I spoke with Mrs. Raines. Administrators will be seeing cuts to their paychecks for next year either thru their health coverage benefits or their pay. The cuts are starting now and will keep going until the mess is cleaned up. But what scared me the most was the suggestion last week - I believe by Mr. Doyle, that the board could ask for a balanced budget, which would mean losing 40 teachers. That would really hurt all of the kids in the district. It's sad that it has come to this, but we can no longer put off the inevitable. Petition or no petition, hard decisions need to be made - cut 40 teachers or close schools? Only one option keeps the level of education excellence that we expect from our district.
Connie February 28, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Just remember, this will affect every student and every school in our community. Don't think because your school is not closing that they will not increase class size. they will be filling class sizes to guidelines. So across the board 1-4 class sizes are going to be higher. I am not a fan of a referendum, but again, I would rather pay a few extra hundred dollars on my tax bill that to have more kids in a class and pay more in all of the fees. You have multiple kids in multiple clubs etc, you will wind up paying more than the referendum. Also, remember they may not be done, who is to say that they don't close a school next year again, and all of our kids get moved to another school. So for some kids, that is 3-4 schools just for elementary school. I don't want to see programming cut either. I just think it is easier to swallow a referendum before a school closes than after a school closes. Something to think about. Please come to the meeting tonight, again, it's about everyone of us in this community. Don't think because your school wasn't on the chopping block it won't be affected. It is sad that it has come to this, but it will get worse before it gets better!
taxpayer February 28, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Please remember that our schools hold 4,200 students and our enrollment is at 3,400 students. That is 800 open spaces in our schools. Wrong facts are putting people in fear. People need to remember that closing a school or 2 will not increase class sizes, we have the room. Closing sections, increasing class sizes and cutting teachers was talked about by the Board to close the budget gap. They can do this if a school is closed or not. Increased class sizes doesn't need to happen, and the board said that they want to do this as a last resort. This will be OUR LAST RESORT if a school isn't closed. 1/2 occupied buildings is not acceptable to me. I would gladly vote for a referendum once a school or 2 are closed. I will however vote for a referendum before I want to see class sizes increased.
Rose C February 28, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Tracy - please do not misunderstand me, I am not attacking you and I apologize if it came across that way. The information I received from Mrs. Raines was after a Parent Advisory meeting. During the two meetings I attended she did discuss the options/legal issues surrounding charging for or cutting bussing. I will admit that with the imposed tone (which is strictly on my shoulders, because that is how I read your remarks) I felt like you were not looking at things from the perspective of those of us who are just 'getting by'. I do agree that every cut will hurt someone. And the situation is so very sad. I do believe that some of the arguing at the board table - especially when it becomes personal - is inappropriate, and disheartening to those of us who voted them in. I think the next several meetings will be hard to watch. I do however know a board member and she spends a great deal of time researching and working with administration to find another way. The problem is, the first time the board has a chance to sit down and hash things out is at the board meeting - so it does seem like some decisions are made in haste or are surprises to board members because they don't get a chance to sit down with Mrs. Raines as a group and brainstorm. We don't have to like them, but we definitely need to hope they never forget who they are fighting for. Coffee sounds great.
Connie February 28, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Class sizes will increase to the guidelines at all schools. Gone are the days of 17, 18, 20 in a class. They will be moving kids to the buildings that have lower class sizes. Some won't be affected because they already have the max in their classes, but for those schools that don't have as many kids, the class sizes will increase. This will fill rooms, and cut back on teachers. So while we have all of these empty class rooms, remember those also include the science labs, music rooms and art rooms. I don't want to see my kids get less of a music class or art class because the teacher doesn't have a classroom to teach in. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be a displaced teacher. Yes, there are rooms at all schools, but again, they are cutting staff, and that means classes will be at the guidelines.
A Concerned Parent February 28, 2012 at 10:22 PM
@Connie -- How do you have so much information about what is going to happen? Do you have a friend on the board or have you talked to Mrs. Rains? Was this in the handouts because I thought the last model that was presented said they weren't going to raise class sizes to guidelines (25 for 1st & 2nd, 27 for 3rd and 4th)? Inquiring minds would like to know so if you can point me to where I can check out this info I'd appreciate it. Thanks.
taxpayer February 28, 2012 at 10:23 PM
I spoke directly with Barb Rains regarding the additional rooms. They DONOT include music, science, art rooms, computer rooms, specials etc. Those rooms are spoken for. What she has listed on her chart, of how many classrooms are available at each school, are accurate according to her. Also, the only schools that have such low class sizes are Aubury Hills and FS. The only school that will see class sizes increase should be FS. AH will remain small. Not sure where your child goes to school but Rogus, IT, and MD have around 20-23 students in a class. This is the norm. 16-18 kids in a class is what private schools offer, not a public school. I don't mean this in a mean way, and I do feel bad for any teacher that needs to be let go but I'm sorry, so many people in our district have lost their jobs, and are struggling to make ends meet. The unemployed in our community cannot continue to pay out of their ears,and make sacrifices just to keep some teachers employed. This economy sucks, and most who have a job realize that at any given moment, you could be let go for cost saving reasons. This is just a fact of life nowadays
taxpayer February 28, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Sorry for the error, I ment to say that All special classrooms are included in Barbs chart. The additional classrooms she has listed is what is actually available.
Joe Vince (Editor) February 28, 2012 at 10:35 PM
@A Concerned Parent: I think there's some confusion of terms here. The board has said they are not raising the classroom size maximums. Actual class sizes will be raised in some cases, but that's because they haven't reached their maximums. I think some people are confusing the two. Joe Vince Local Editor, Frankfort
Joe Vince (Editor) February 28, 2012 at 10:39 PM
@A Concerned Parent: "Up to code" is becoming shorthand for improvements that need to be made if it's going to be rented out or occupied by students. Indian Trails has issues with its phone system, and that will be fixed whether it's open or closed. Mary Drew also is in need of improvements, and as the landlord, so to speak, the district would be responsible for making those if it were to rent it out. This is what people mean by "up to code." It's not like the buildings need to be condemned (although I was shocked at how bad the phone system was at Indian Trails). Joe Vince Local Editor, Frankfort
A Concerned Parent February 28, 2012 at 10:56 PM
@Taxpayer and @Joe Vince -- thanks for the information. It is so confusing trying to dissect everyone's comments to figure out what is fact and what is he said/she said information. BTW, my daughter went to FS last year and there were 26 kids in her 4th grade class. Also, I know for a fact that there are 20-22 kids in each 3rd and 4th grade class this year but I'm not sure about 1st and 2nd. Hopefully there will be more factual information coming soon from the district. Again, my thanks.
Connie February 28, 2012 at 11:01 PM
they discussed at a board meeting that they would make classrooms meet district guidelines. Joe is correct. Some classrooms have not reached their maximums. So again, classes will get bigger. And from what they have said, all schools will be affected. Kids are going to move to all schools to even them out and fill the classrooms. They will not go over district guidelines, but will go up to the maximum.
A Concerned Parent February 28, 2012 at 11:10 PM
@Joe -- thank you so much for answering my many questions -- sorry there are so many of them!
A Concerned Parent February 28, 2012 at 11:13 PM
So, what are the class size maximums? Are they the ones presented on the model (25 for 1st & 2nd and 27 for 3rd & 4th) or were those what they were going to raise them up to if they didn't close a school?

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