HIGHLAND PARK – Ravinia residents were in full force at the November 15 Board of Education meeting, which further divided the North Shore School District 112 Board of Education.
“The money we’re saving isn’t really going to matter if we can’t pass a referendum, and we upset this community so much,” said Karla Livney, board member.
Board member Eric Ephraim agreed and said keeping Ravinia open for another year is not “pandering” to the community.
Livney said she’s had a consistent message from the beginning that we need to slow down. “The problem is we have a very loud, vocal group in Ravinia where I live and I appreciate what you’re doing. Regarding financials, all evidence indicates that we could support keeping Ravinia open for another year, and I know this is Pandora’s Box, but I think we need to rethink this.”
The most vocal member of the Ravinia group, Laura Saret, called for the resignation of the entire board during the heated two-hour public comment discussion.
Resident Lisa Hirsch summarized the recurring message to “stop BDR 3 and start listening.”
The plan, known as BDR 3 (Budget Deficit Reduction), is to close Lincoln and Ravinia Elementary Schools, Elm Place Middle School and the Green Bay Early Childhood Center to save an estimated $5 million a year.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy said the cabinet realized that it could not support keeping Elm Place Middle School open for 220 students that would be going into high school with 2,000 students. In an effort to improve the transition for kids, the district researched what a new Edgewood would look like with an additional 300 students.
“The middle school model with two teams at Edgewood is a projected savings of $1.2 million,” said Monica Schroeder, assistant superintendent for personnel services. “The Edgewood Middle School model with blue and white teams was projected to have two teams per grade level with two English teachers per team with a science teacher, a social studies teacher and so forth.”
Schroeder explained that the dual language program at Northwood Jr. High makes it difficult to run two teams, as Northwood’s incoming sixth grade class next year would be 100 dual language students and 75 monolingual students. Three out of nine classes at Northwood are dual language classes.
Schroeder said Northwood has been running a different schedule because the program has had mobile units to meet space challenges for over six years, and potential building improvements would take time.
Board member Yumi Ross asked what impact BDR 3 would have on special needs students.
“We’ll try to provide as much continuity for special needs students as we can, knowing that there will be changes that would include trips for transitions after the holidays,” said Kristin Swanson, assistant superintendent of student services.
Ephraim said there are already two basketball teams in each grade at Edgewood and wondered if more teams would be added.
“Edgewood is a basketball school and it can be done if it’s an area of interest by creatively scheduling a.m., p.m. and later p.m. practices sometimes on a staggered basis,” said Jennifer Ferrari, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. “We always want to give kids opportunities to participate when possible.”
Board President Michael Cohn said he likes the middle school model because “it’s nurturing for the kids and if it’s implemented in both Northwood and Edgewood it touches every single one of our students. BDR 3 is the most prudent financial decision.”
Board Vice President Samantha Stolberg said, “The most prudent financial decision may be to implement BDR 3, but it doesn’t mean the board shouldn’t consider another avenue.” She addressed a common misconception that Ravinia is being split up three ways with boundary changes. However, students in two elementary schools, Ravinia and Red Oak, are being split up two ways.
Livney told the board that when she asked former Chief Financial Officer Mohsin Dada if the board could wait a year to implement BDR 3, he said yes. “When we voted several of us pleaded to make this a 2018 implementation, and had we done that, I think we would be in a much better place,” she said. “The question comes down to can we afford to slow this down?”
Board member Jane Solmor- Mordini said she was in favor of slowing down and phasing out Elm Place, but was later convinced that it wasn’t a viable educational decision for students. “Having several teachers with endorsements in areas that they’ve never taught suddenly teaching a cohort of students is not sound.” She reached out to many Elm Place parents about keeping Elm Place open for another year and there was “little to no support for that,” she added.
Stolberg and Livney discussed the possibility of re-opening the vote on BDR 3, as four voted in favor while three board members voted against it last February in the advent of a failed March referendum. Livney assured everyone that she’s not campaigning, as she’s not running for re-election in the spring.
Solmor-Mordini announced that she is running for re-election. “I would love to say let’s keep Ravinia open, but I’m running to make sure that the future of our community shines, because we have the best educational facilities here and getting re-elected doesn’t serve the purpose,” she said. “What serves the purpose is to do the best I can for my grandkids who I want to be educated here.”
Ravinia Elementary School; photo by Steven Clay, digital media specialist, NSSD 112.