D97 hopes to head off overcrowding


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Changing District 97's school boundaries as a way to solve overcrowding at some of its schools might be a more attractive — and far less expensive — option compared with spending millions of dollars to construct new space, according to some members of the district's school board. 

Board President Bob Spatz stressed that no decision or commitment has been made right now on either adding space or changing boundaries. The board, he says, is exploring conceptual ideas and options the district could choose. One board member, Peter Traczyk, thinks changing boundaries is the better option to explore. Other members remain noncommittal at this point but are open to discussing the impact of boundary changes. 

STR Partners, the district's architectural firm, estimates a cost of $250,000 to $500,000 to add a single classroom. 

STR conducted a capacity study last summer, showing Beye and Longfellow schools exceeding their capacities by 2017. Other D97 schools either hit or fall just below their maximum. D97 officials, however, note that enrollment could fluctuate between now and 2017. The enrollment projections were done by Lisle-based Ehlers and Associates, a company hired by D97 in 2011 to examine enrollment trends. By 2018, D97 enrollment is projected at just over 6,000 kids, according to Ehlers. It is currently around 5,800.

STR, which took over the district's architectural services last year, included the firm's findings in its capacity study. 

Spatz said the board is considering all of the options outlined by STR, included going to a grade-center model in the district. The district could have, for instance, a K-2 school or a building with only grades 3-5. But that model, like all the other options, has pro and cons, Spatz noted.

"You could have parents with kids in four different schools. You could have a child in kindergarten at one school, one in the fourth grade at another school, one in the middle school and a student at the high school, so that would be an issue," Spatz said.

The grade-center model, he added, would also impact the neighborhood-school concept, which is extremely popular among Oak Park parents. Such a model in Oak Park could also impact the district's busing costs, Spatz said, with students having to travel to multiple buildings. 

As for constructing new classrooms, or simply reconfiguring current spaces, STR noted that some programs, like pre-kindergarten at Longfellow, would have to be moved to another building. For Spatz, relocating PKP is a "non-starter."

The PKP space — including pre-K-sized bathrooms — was specifically constructed for Longfellow, Spatz recalled. He said moving it to another school would require construction work at that building. 

"It's all about cost-efficiency. If you find that three or four classrooms at Longfellow are needed, then maybe you could do it," Spatz said. "But if we're talking just one classroom, you may want to look at switching a room here and there, versus causing additional work and spending more money to build space at another school."

Spatz noted that Lincoln School, three years ago, did construct new classrooms, including adding a second-floor space, on land right next to the school. But other D97 schools don't have such available space, he said. 

As for simply moving a handful of kids from a "large" school to a smaller one, that's not as easy as some might think, Spatz said. He warned that it doesn't take much for a "small" school to quickly go over capacity given how enrollment fluctuates. Shifting students would also impact class sizes and the number of class levels in a building, he explained.

The next step for the district, Spatz added, is getting feedback from the building principals.

"We're looking at capacity proactively and transparently," he said. "We're looking at this now because enrollment is going up in a few years. If it goes up faster than we thought, then we've already done our due diligence and had talks about what we could do. If it goes up slower than we thought, we haven't spent any money and we simply have more information that we can consider."

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

D97 Capacity Follow-up and Enrollment Report

District 97 Capacity Report

Reader Comments

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Stan East from Oak Park  

Posted: February 18th, 2014 2:07 PM

I think that ifat if we really cracked down on the kids from the Austin neighborhood going to OPRF schools we would not have overcrowding. I think a lot of kids are staying at "aunties apartment" and dont really live here

Middle School Mom  

Posted: February 17th, 2014 8:22 PM

Students who are focused on academics do fine. Unmotivated students exist but don't have to be a distraction. A good education is there for the taking. As parents, if we teach our kids to be confident and self-directed, they won't be bothered by "bad influences."

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 17th, 2014 7:31 PM

Yes, I've had "culture shock" explained to me by HS students who have friends that did not have the opportunity to matriculate from one of our fine middle schools. "Those Ascension kids are really shocked by girl fights in the lunch room. We saw a pregnant 12 year old take lots of kicks to the belly". Anna, people DO try to avoid our middle schools. There are a lot of forces working against them, and not enough going for them. They aren't wretched, but they are not good, never mind great.


Posted: February 17th, 2014 4:55 PM

Anna - OP schools are better than most of the public school options in the city.. Clearly, Lab, Francis PArker and Latin are different story at k-8 level. The middle school years are called the lost years. The issues include overcrowding, students getting lost in systems and at times lack of rigour in coursework. Of course, the top students are fine but the middle/lower/minority can fall behind. the question is not if schools are adequate/good but rather how do make sure all students have


Posted: February 14th, 2014 6:31 PM

@Anna. Julian and Brooks are very good schools - understanding that grades 6-12 are challenging every where - always. My children are recent grads of the OP school system and if I detected ANY problems.....I wouldn't be silent. In truth, my kids excelled in OP schools and so did most of their peers. K-8 schools? IMO, some would benefit and some would not. 6-8 schools? My kids benefited from them. They also minimized the "culture shock" of transitioning to OPRF. Enjoy these years - they go quick.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: February 14th, 2014 4:28 PM

Tom Gull's idea makes more sense than anything. A limited (to make it palatable to some) voucher program to offload excess capacity is the least expensive, best alternative available. Combined with minor adjustment to current school borders, it is absolutely the best solution. Partnering with local non-profits, in this case Catholic/private schools, is a proud, progressive OP value. This should be thoroughly explored before dime one is spent on bricks & mortar.

Anna from Oak Park  

Posted: February 14th, 2014 4:06 PM

Thanks Tom. Lots of young families are moving from the city to Oak Park specifically FOR the schools, so when members of our own community make alarmist statements like that it's very frustrating.

Tom Gull from Oak Park  

Posted: February 14th, 2014 2:14 PM

Anna, don't worry, people are not "fleeing" Oak Park because of the middle schools. Statements like that always make me suspect.

Anna from Oak Park  

Posted: February 14th, 2014 2:09 PM

Can OPDad or someone else elaborate on the problems with the middle schools? I'm a parent of two young children who haven't started school yet (we're in Hatch district) and this news is very concerning to me.


Posted: February 14th, 2014 10:57 AM

Go back to the k-8 model. The middle school approach has been an abject failure. People flee this town because of the externalities that appear in the middle school.


Posted: February 14th, 2014 9:56 AM

I concur with the comments of "resident" and "Jim'e'." It appears as if the max capacities at Longfellow and Beye, without utilizing classroom aides, is barely breached, but can not be overlooked. Page 23/29 also suggests that this just might be a "pig in a python" situation - look at the Kdg declines over the years. I would also love to see the 2011 report online.

Rob Breymaier from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 13th, 2014 2:57 PM

If boundaries are revised, I hope the board takes into account integration of the schools, ideally enhancing it in each district affected.

Tom Gull from Oak Park  

Posted: February 13th, 2014 1:40 PM

Offer vouchers to the Catholic schools. Much more affordable option.


Posted: February 12th, 2014 3:07 PM

Thank you Peter and Bob for tackling this difficult question. No doubt changing school borders will become an emotional issue, which could cause confusion to those moving into neighborhoods, but one that needs to be undertaken to preserve the inegrity of the school facility infrasturture.


Posted: February 12th, 2014 12:23 PM

Oops - thanks for the correct. Still would like to see a link to the report

to resident  

Posted: February 12th, 2014 12:20 PM

opps, wrong paper


Posted: February 12th, 2014 12:12 PM

Oak Leaves - how about providing a link to that 2011 report? It would be interesting to see what it projected and if actual increases since it was published are as were expected.

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