ST. CHARLES – St. Charles School District 303 will repurpose Fox Ridge Elementary School for an early childhood center and office. The school board's decision on March 12 came despite 11th-hour pleas from parents opposing the move.
The board also approved the district's latest proposed elementary school boundary changes. Along with the Fox Ridge repurposing, the district-wide boundary changes will result in 600 students being sent to different schools.
The Fox Ridge repurposing and boundary changes will take effect at the start of the 2018-19 school year.
District officials believe these changes will reduce underutilization of some of the 12 elementary schools and make class sizes more uniform throughout the district.
Although many residents said the decisions were rushed, District 303 School Board President Kathy Hewell noted the board and district staff have been evaluating ways to address the issues for several years because of declining enrollment.
“Board members have struggled with this and have been looking at this issue for a long time,” Hewell said. “But that's why we're sitting here – to make the tough decisions.”
Hewell said the changes are fiscally sound and will be positive for the district, even though parents whose children have to change schools may not be happy with them.
“The board could say there is no issue and put it off for the next board or the next,” said Hewell, but added that wouldn't be responsible.
She said the data the district provided the board to make the decisions was thorough.
Repurposing Fox Ridge, changing elementary school boundaries, along with hiring 10 new teachers, will bring the average class size to 22.8 from the current 23.8 average, district officials said. They added that no elementary class size would be larger than 27.
The board's decisions follow months of hearing complaints from parents about their children's large class sizes, with some having 29 students. Meanwhile, elementary schools district-wide have a total of 1,700 empty seats because of declining enrollment, district officials said.
The district's initial reboundary proposal in January called for reassigning an estimated 700 students district-wide. Board member Edward McNally was pleased that district staff made alterations to the original plan to reduce that number.
“I'm happy that the new boundaries decrease the number of students affected,” McNally said.
The board also had considered, and then rejected, a proposal to close Lincoln Elementary School. The Lincoln closure, Fox Ridge redistricting and proposed elementary boundary changes would have required reassigning 950 students district-wide.
A Feb. 12 decision on the original proposals was postponed after residents objected to the what they called a rushed timeline. The board held two community forums and two special board meetings since January to give district residents the opportunity to express concerns.
Several residents had asked that before making a decision the board identify additional proposals and establish community task forces to evaluate data to make recommendations.