UPDATE: D161 Board Will Vote Again to Close Mary Drew
The Summit Hill school district board has set a special meeting for Tuesday, Feb. 28, after a grievance was filed, claiming the public wasn't properly told that the board would be discussing closing the elementary school at last week's meeting.
- UPDATED (5:50 a.m. Monday, Feb. 27): Information from board President Mary Kenny.
The board of education for Summit Hill School District 161 will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the district offices redo its vote concerning the closing of Mary Drew Elementary School, said board President Mary Kenny on Sunday.
A community member filed a grievance Friday that the board didn't sufficiently notify the public that it would be taking action to close the school at its Feb. 22 meeting, Kenny said. The closing was included under the "Planning for the Future" agenda item at last week's meeting, where board members voted to shutter the school next school year.
Although board members can discuss items that aren't on the agenda during a public meeting, a 2002 state appellate court ruling prohibits them from taking action on those items, according to an Open Meetings Act handbook put together by the Illinois Association of School Boards.
The agenda for Tuesday's meeting, which was posted some time Saturday, lists the school's closing as its only item. Public comments also will be part of the meeting, something that is dictated by law, Kenny said. However, it will only be limited to one time during the beginning of the meeting, instead of the board's usual practice of having two opportunities.
Although Tuesday's meeting was set up simply to re-vote on the closing in order to make the action official and valid, Kenny said board members could still discuss the matter.
"You know how it goes," she said. "A motion is put on the table and then anyone can ask questions or give comments. That's when all hell breaks loose."
Kenny said she also has heard that some district parents are going to "parade their children" through the board meeting room to protest the decision to close the school. It's not a demonstration that Kenny finds to be in good taste.
"How sick is that?" she said.
News of the special meeting had spread online by Saturday night. Kelly Meister, who runs the Keep Our Schools Open-Summit Hill Dist 161 Facebook page, posted this message along with a link to Tuesday's agenda on the district's website:
District 161 parents!!! We need your help..Please attend Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 at District for a re-vote on closing Mary Drew!! WE HAVE TO BE HEARD..IT IS OUR RIGHT TO HAVE PUBLIC COMMENT..WE WILL NOT GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT..ALL 161 PARENTS AND STUDENTS SHOULD ATTEND BECAUSE THIS BOARD IS GETTING AWAY WITH STUFF THAT IS NOT RIGHT. NOT ONLY WILL IT AFFECT MARY DREW KIDS, IT WILL AFFECT ALL THE KIDS IN OUR DISTRICT!! WE HAVE TO LET THEM KNOW WE ARE NOT TOLERATING THEIR ATTITUDES AND THEIR RASH DECISIONS AT OUR EXPENSE....
A group of parents also met Sunday to discuss plans for how they should mobilize for Tuesday's meeting.
The decision to close Mary Drew comes as the district struggles with a $3 million budget deficit over the next three years. The board has set a goal to cut at least $1.4 million this year, and closing the elementary school would put $500,000 toward that.
Initially, the board considered eliminating the district's full-day kindergarten program, but that proposal wasn't passed. Board members also are streamlining district expenses, but they haven't come close to reaching the cuts they'd like to this year.
The constant delays when it comes to making substantial cuts and progress on the budget are a source of frustration for Kenny, one that is sending the wrong idea to community members, as well as wasting time while the deficit grows. Kenny cited an added $300,000 that was added to 2012-13 expenses in the two weeks between the board's vote on full-day kindergarten and closing Mary Drew. Those expenses include a technology update, building maintenance and the cost of retirement for Hilda Walker Intermediate School Principal Jan Zevkovich.
"I think it's a big problem," she said. "Parents now think if they make enough noise, someone on that board is going to change their vote."
"We have to worry about the entire district," Kenny added. "We could table it and table it, and it would be too late. Just looking at what has happened in the last two weeks, we've had another $300,000 added to the budget. ... There's no guarantee that we're not going to have a whole bunch of those bumps. Keeping a school open when it's just draining money is going to make your deficit more, not less."