At its Dec. 8 meeting, the Finance Committee of the District 65 School Board reviewed options to address a projected increase in student enrollment at Lincoln Elementary School next year. The latest projections prepared after that meeting by Peter Godard, chief officer of research, accountability and data, estimate that enrollment will increase from 572 this school year to 626 in the 2015-16 school year.
The average class sizes at Lincoln are already the highest in the District at all grade levels, except second grade.
John Price, assistant superintendent of schools, opened the discussion saying, “It’s a problem difficult to solve and all the options are undesirable. I want to acknowledge than none of the options are great.” He presented six options that had been considered by administrators:
• Cap and Transfer: Under this policy, the District would cap enrollment at the school or at grade levels at the school, and students in excess of the cap would be transferred to another school. The School Board approved a cap and transfer policy on a one-year basis in February 2010, but shelved the policy three months later. Mr. Price recommended a school-wide cap of 635 students for Lincoln. At that level, each general education classroom would have on average about 25.4 students.
• Magnet transfer: Families at Lincoln could be offered a preference for available seats at King Arts and Rhodes magnet schools.
• Permissive transfers: The District could offer families the option to attend other schools in the District that have available space.
• Convert existing space to an additional classroom: The art room, drama room, teacher’s lounge, child care room, or library could be converted to an additional classroom. Mr. Price’s memo recommended that the drama room be converted to an additional classroom for next year.
• Programmatic changes: Lincoln currently serves about 70 English Language Learners (ESL), 25 of whom reside outside of Lincoln’s attendance area. Mr. Price said if a new ESL program were established at another school, that school might be able to accept new ESL students who reside outside of Lincoln’s attendance area. He made clear he was not recommending moving any ESL students who were already attending Lincoln.
• Boundary Changes: Mr. Price said the Board could also consider redrawing attendance area lines.
Mr. Price said administrators recommended that all of the options, except redrawing attendance areas, be implemented in the 2015-16 school year.
Board member Claudia Garrison, other Board members and Lincoln parents raised concerns about increasing class sizes to an average of 25.4 students. They also raised concerns about whether the lunchrooms, playgrounds, and hallways could accommodate 635 students.
Board member Katie Bailey said, “Nothing is palatable.” She said no one wants to move a program, but said the Board should consider moving the ESL program to another school that had more space. The ESL program at Lincoln serves about 70 students.
Richard Rykhus, a member of the Board and Chair of the Finance Committee, suggested that the District verify the residency of all students at all schools in the District. He added that on a long-term basis, the Board may need to look at redrawing attendance areas, coupled with a policy that would enable students already attending a school to remain there.
Board member Candance Chow said she thought that redrawing attendance areas would be less disruptive over time than a cap and transfer policy.
Board member Omar Brown suggested the District review the methodology it is using for projecting enrollment at the schools. He added that the common areas at Lincoln were not adequate to accommodate all parents attending events at the school.
The Finance Committee did not settle on a recommendation. Mr. Rykhus asked Superintendent Paul Goren to form a collaborative committee consisting of central administrators, school administrators, teachers and parents who could discuss the options and come back to the School Board with a recommendation in January.
In a subsequent memo provided to the Board, Mr. Godard recommended that the District develop a public statement before kindergarten information night to inform parents in the Lincoln attendance area that enrollment at the school may be capped next year. He also said that he, in collaboration with Mr. Price, would convene a committee of parents, educators and administrators to evaluate the options and submit the group’s perspectives to Dr. Goren by March 1. He also said his department would analyze in more detail the projected growth at Lincoln and the capacity of Lincoln’s classrooms and common areas.