CARPENTERSVILLE – Teachers’ effort to lower class sizes at District 300 has been achieved in writing, but the actual process that could include redrawn boundaries and a new school is just beginning.
Members from LEAD 300, the district’s teachers union, and administrators have started initial conversations on how to achieve the smaller class sizes, effective next year, detailed in the three-year, $13 million contract approved last week.
Board member Joe Stevens said reconfiguring school boundaries that would require students to change schools is “almost a certainty.” The district also may decide to house students in mobile classrooms, remotely located near the district’s 26 schools.
Officials may even use $35 million in overdue construction money from the state to build a new elementary school, if the pot of money ever arrives.
“It’s understandable that if we are looking at buildings that are terribly overcrowded, and we can’t add another classroom into it, we need to figure out something to do because the class sizes still need to come down,” LEAD spokesman Mike Williamson said.
Union leaders and teachers vehemently advocated for smaller class sizes throughout the yearlong negotiations that culminated with a one-day strike earlier this month.
The victory led to classroom caps of 27 to 32 students from kindergarten through 12th grade next school year, and caps of 26 to 31 students from K-12 in 2014-15.
But logistical challenges remain.
The district currently has a limited amount of physical space to house its 20,000-plus students.
The issue has caused class sizes to average between 33 and 37 students at the elementary level and even hit 48-student classrooms at the high school level.
The Carpentersville-based district that covers portions of McHenry and Kane counties is experiencing student growth to the east while seeing stagnant enrollment to the west, Stevens said.
Redrawn school boundaries could maximize the district’s western schools and evenly spread school enrollment throughout the district. If classes still can’t fall underneath the caps, the district could consider building a new school.
Stevens said the district could use the $35 million from the state, owed in 2004, for building Hampshire High School, Gilberts Elementary School and Wright Elementary School.
But officials don’t have a clear sense of when that money could enter the district’s coffers.
Detached, mobile classrooms also could help smooth large-sized classes located throughout the district’s eastern borders.
With so many unresolved issues, the district’s new class size panel of administrators and teachers will partly be tasked with developing a list of possible ways to reduce class sizes.
The new contract creates that panel and four others, including an insurance committee with the power to oversee the district’s insurance and liability costs.
The district also will seek input on class sizes and boundary changes from parents and officials from individual schools.
A similar approach was used in 2006, when the district proposed boundary changes to fill the newly opened Gilberts and Hampshire schools.
Union leaders and board members will work to have solutions in place to accommodate smaller class sizes by the start of school in August. But both sides understand this process might not be achieved instantaneously, officials said.
“The tradeoff for having small classes may very well be boundary changes and mobile classrooms,” board President Anne Miller said. “But the benefit of having smaller classes outweighs that.”
Classroom caps in the new District 300 contract:
• Grades K-2: 27 students
• 3-5: 30 students
• 6-12: 32 students
• Grades K-2: 26 students
• 3-5: 28 students
• 6-12: 31 students
Source: D-300 and LEAD 300