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At their Feb. 16 meeting, members of the District 65 School Board gave a nod to using a “cap and transfer” policy to manage student enrollment for the 2010-11 school year. Five Board members were present when the nod was given shortly after midnight, with Tracy Quattrocki expressly opposing the strategy.

The District had projected that under current policies, classroom space would not be adequate to accomodate the projected kindergarten enrollment at Dewey, Lincolnwood and Willard schools. The District projects that a cap and transfer policy will require the transfer of a total of 28 kindergarten students from Dewey, Lincolnwood and Willard schools in the 2010-11 school year.

The Board was scheduled to make a formal vote on the cap and transfer policy at its March 2 meeting, after this paper went to press.

The cap and transfer policy has already had a major impact on kindergarten registration, which took place on Feb. 23-25. More than 120 parents lined up before 7 a.m. on Feb. 23 to register their children for kindergarten, in order to get an early time stamp on their registration forms and a higher-priority status under the policy. District administrators said, “This year there were longer lines and wait times than in any prior year.”

 The Cap and Transfer Policy  

Under the cap and transfer policy, class size enrollment would be capped at all schools, and students in excess of the cap would be transferred to other schools. Lora Taira, assistant director of Information Services for District 65, said the proposed cap and transfer strategy would apply to incoming kindergartners and students new to the attendance area. It would not apply to students who are already attending their attendance-area school, she said. 

Under the latest version of the plan, when parents register their child for kindergarten, the registration forms are time- and date-stamped, which establishes a priority in position. Incoming kindergartners who have a sibling already enrolled in their attendance-area school are given a priority if they were registered during the February registration.

If kindergarten class sizes at a school exceed 23 students (the number permitted under the class size guidelines for kindergarten), then requests for permissive transfer from that school or applications to attend a magnet school will be given priority in an effort to reduce the class sizes at overcrowded schools on a voluntary basis. If, however, class sizes still exceed 23 students after permissive transfers and magnet school applications are decided, then students who do not have a sibling priority and who registered last will be transferred to another school. Parents of a child required to transfer will be given an option of either a magnet school or an adjacent attendance-area school if there is space in the school. 

Ms. Taira said she expected this strategy would most likely impact students who enrolled after the scheduled February registration dates for kindergarten. The District projects that a total of 28 kindergartners will be transferred in the 2010-11 school year, 15 from Dewey, 8 from Lincolnwood, and 5 from Willard.

The cap and transfer policy also applies to first through eighth grades. One significant difference is that the size of classes will be capped at the number of students permitted under the class size guidelines, plus two. The number of students permitted under the current class size guidelines at these grade levels is 25 at first grade, 26 at second and third grades, and 27 at fourth and fifth grades. 

Increasing Class Sizes Under the Class Size Guidelines

Another strategy proposed by administrators at the Feb. 16 meeting was to increase the class sizes permitted under the class size guidelines by one, two or three students. If the permitted class sizes were increased by one student, they would range from 24 students at kindergarten to 28 at fourth and fifth grades. This year, the average class size at kindergarten is 19.5 students, at fifth grade it is 20.1 students.

If kindergarten class sizes were increased to 24 students, the District projects it would reduce the number of students that would need to be transferred under the cap and transfer policy. In addition if the permitted class sizes were increased, the District projects it could eliminate the need for a total of five classrooms at three schools by, for example, reducing the number of classrooms for a grade level at a school from three (with relatively low class sizes) to two (with substantially higher class sizes). 

At the end of the Feb. 16 meeting, Board president Keith Terry told the RoundTable the Board gave a nod to increasing class sizes in the class size guidelines by one student. The RoundTable subsequently learned that several Board members disagreed.

Board Comments 

At the Feb. 16 meeting, it appeared that Board members were not happy with the cap and transfer policy, but a majority seemed willing to go along with it because of a lack of other alternatives a majority could agree on. Most also felt constrained by projected deficits totaling $31 million over the next five years and a need to control operating expenses. 

Board president Keith Terry summed up the situation saying, “There is no perfect solution,” and “Somebody in this City is going to be upset no matter what option is chosen.” 

A number of Board members proposed alternative solutions, which failed to gain traction with a majority of other Board members. 

Three Board members suggested various modifications to the Two Way Immersion, TWI, program. Katie Bailey proposed that the District reduce the number of “strands” of the TWI program from six to five by increasing the number of students in TWI classes to the maximum permitted under the class size guidelines for TWI, which is 24 students per class. She said if the District is considering increasing the size of general education classes, it should consider increasing the size of TWI classes.

Eliminating one strand of TWI (a K-5, TWI program at a school), would free up six classrooms at a school. Ms. Bailey also suggested moving the TWI program from one attendance area school to Bessie Rhodes magnet school, which the Magnet School Committee recommended have a focus on global studies.

Kim Weaver proposed phasing in the elimination of a TWI strand, starting with the kindergarten grade at one school and working up. 

Ms. Quattrocki proposed moving the TWI programs from Dewey and Willard to King Lab, which would free up space at Dewey and Willard. 

Administrators expressed concerns about each of these options. They said the District needed to maintain six strands of TWI to have flexibility to serve English-language-learning Hispanic students, who often register late. They said moving TWI programs to King Lab would reduce the District’s ability to use King Lab to manage overcrowding at the District’s other schools, which is now a key function of the magnet schools. 

Several Board members expressed an interest in taking a look at redistricting to help address overcrowding issues on a long-term basis.

Jerome Summers proposed establishing a school in the Fifth Ward. Ms. Taira said the estimated cost to build a 12-classroom school was $9 million; she added that a 24-classroom school would be needed to truly address the needs of students in the Fifth Ward. Without addressing the cost implications, Dr. Murphy said, a school in the Fifth Ward would solve all the class management issues. 

Mr. Terry floated the idea of building a new magnet school, which he said would solve the class management issues for years to come. He said “put a referendum to the community” to resolve one way or another whether the community would support building a new school. 

At an earlier meeting, several Board members opposed building new classrooms or renting mobile classrooms to manage increased enrollment, saying they did not want to add new teachers in light of the projected deficits.

In the end, the Board gave a nod to using the cap and transfer strategy on a one-year basis, which is still subject to a formal vote. Ms. Quattrocki said she opposed that strategy. She said under the proposal a certain number of spaces at Willard would be set aside for students in the Willard Island (which is predominantly African-American and Hispanic), and that no comparable spaces were set aside for African-American and Hispanic students at Dewey. She said African-American and Hispanic students often register later than other students, and as a result they may be disproportionately impacted by the cap and transfer strategy which, in turn, would impact the demographics of Dewey School.

The Board was scheduled to continue its discussion and to vote on the strategies to manage student enrollment for the 2010-11 school year at its March 2 meeting, after this paper went to press. It is anticipated the Board will continue exploring strategies on how to manage increasing enrollments on a longer-term basis in subsequent meetings.