After a winding journey on how to address overcrowding at Willard and Dewey Schools, it now looks like School District 65 will shelve the “cap and transfer” plan that was approved by the Board in February to manage overcrowding at Willard, Dewey and Lincolnwood Schools on a one-year basis.

At a May 10 Finance Committee meeting, Superintendent Hardy Murphy recommended that the District convert a staff lounge at Willard and art rooms at Willard and Dewey to provide classroom space to accommodate three general education kindergarten classes at each school. He also recommended keeping three general education classrooms at the third-grade levels at each school next year.

Backing Away from
‘Cap and Transfer’

District 65 administrators said at the School Board’s May 3 meeting that they were recommending a way that the District could avoid transferring incoming kindergartners from Dewey and Willard Schools to other schools on an involuntary basis under the “cap and transfer” policy. Under that policy, class size enrollment is capped at all schools, and students in excess of the cap are to be transferred to other schools.

The administrators added, though, that their recommended plan would require larger class sizes at the third-grade level at Dewey and Willard Schools.

Lora Taira, assistant director of information services for the District, said if two general education kindergarten classes were provided at Dewey and Willard next year, as originally planned, and if enrollment was capped at 23 students per class, then eight incoming kindergartners would be required to transfer from Dewey, and 15 from Willard.

“By adjusting the staffing allocations, we would be able to minimize the need for these involuntary transfers moving forward,” Ms. Taira said. “We’re recommending an adjustment to the staffing allocation for both Dewey and Willard. We’re recommending that we decrease the number of third-grade teachers by one at each school and add a kindergarten teacher to each school.”

If one third-grade teacher at both Dewey and Willard were eliminated, each school would have two general education classes at the third-grade level. The average third-grade class would be 27.5 students at Dewey, and 28 at Willard, said Ms. Taira.

The administration’s recommendation to eliminate two third-grade classes was guided by a desire to avoid adding new teachers in light of the District’s budgetary pressures, and by limited classroom space in each school. Paul Brinson, chief information officer, said he thought the District could deal with larger class sizes better than it could deal with telling parents their children had to transfer to another school on an involuntary basis.

Board members expressed concern about the large class sizes that would result at the third-grade levels at Dewey and Willard. Bonnie Lockhart said, “I’m very concerned about 27 and 28 students being in third grade. I really don’t feel comfortable with that number. … We need to talk about what does that mean to have class sizes that large.”

Tracy Quattrocki said these options “are both going to be difficult to swallow.” She said Dewey and Willard were two of the three schools projected to be overcrowded in the next few years, and she said the Board needed to look at all the options and develop a long-term solution to address overcrowding at Dewey, Lincolnwood and Willard.

Adding Teachers and

Classroom Space

At the Board’s Finance Committee May 10 meeting, Dr. Murphy proposed yet another change. He said, in light of some more optimistic budget scenarios, “I believe we should keep the three third-grade sections at Dewey and Willard elementary schools, as well as the three kindergartens at each school.” He said he felt the cost for two additional teaching positions could be absorbed into the budget.

To create the additional classroom space, Dr. Murphy said, “We will convert the staff lounge at Willard and the art rooms at Willard and Dewey into classrooms for the coming school year.”

He said there has been some interest in converting auditoriums and cafeterias in the District into multi-purpose rooms and building an addition at Willard. “I feel that we should plan to implement these strategies for the 2011-12 school year,” he said in a memo to the Finance Committee. He added that the cost of these capital improvements could be paid for by bonds or out of operating funds. The added classrooms, he said, “could eliminate the space concerns at both schools.”