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Woodstock residents wondering if District 200 should consolidate high schools

Sarah Nader- snader@shawmedia.com
A view of Woodstock North High School Thursday, September 10, 2015.
Sarah Nader- snader@shawmedia.com A view of Woodstock North High School Thursday, September 10, 2015.

WOODSTOCK – Students started attending Woodstock North High School in 2008 after the community showed “unbelievably overwhelming” support for a referendum to build the school, Woodstock School District 200 Board President Camille Goodwin said.

Seven years later, the high school is operating at about 58 percent of its capacity.

Some Woodstock residents have spoken at school board meetings and cited District 200’s debt and Woodstock’s high property taxes as reasons why there needs to be a discussion on how to lower the district’s debt and lower taxes.

One possibility to save money that residents have said should be discussed is consolidating schools.

For the 2015 school year, 930 students are enrolled at Woodstock North High School, which has a capacity of 1,600 students, according to District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan.

Moan said 991 students are enrolled at Woodstock High School for the 2015 school year, and the school has a capacity of 1,800 students.

“We always are looking at our numbers and what is the best utilization of our space,” Goodwin said.

She said the board has “not discussed closing schools, but we keep an eye on our enrollment versus our capacity.”

Goodwin said Woodstock North High School wouldn’t have the space to hold all of the students if Woodstock High School closed.

When the referendum passed in 2006 to build a new high school, Goodwin, who joined the school board in 2005, said Woodstock High School was overcrowded.

People also projected an influx of people coming into Woodstock, Goodwin said, which did not happen after the housing market crashed in about 2008. Several planned residential developments were halted or significantly reduced.

Woodstock North High School is 307,000 square feet and Woodstock High School is 319,355 square feet, according to documents for the sale of District 200’s General Obligation School Refunding Bonds, which lists school size, capacity and enrollment from 2005 to 2014.

Five classrooms are not in use at Woodstock High School, and all classrooms are used at Woodstock North High School, Moan said.

Brian McAdow, principal at Woodstock North High School, said some of its rooms are filled through the special education program, to which other area districts send their students.

“Our fiscal plan expenses are gonna be the same, regardless,” Goodwin said in response to a question on how much money the district loses by operating two schools under capacity.

Moan said there is not a breakdown in the budget of how much it costs to operate each high school.

Woodstock resident Scott Gessert has three children who have or will go through District 200 schools.

Considering the debt the school has, Gessert says school consolidation is a conversation that is worth having in the district.

“I’m concerned that in our county where we pay two to three times the national average (in taxes), that the school board has room to be better stewards,” Gessert said. “… In light of that, I think it’s important to have the conversation of a possible school consolidation.”

Woodstock resident and owner of Monarch Senior Care Joe Tirio does not have children going through the district, but said he doesn’t feel like the board is being a good steward of his tax dollars.

Tirio said when he sees the schools operating under capacity, he thinks of the costs in just keeping the lights on and heat on.

“When we’re at the place were at, how can you not ask school board, ‘What have you done for us to try to mitigate some of those costs?’ ” Tirio said.

Goodwin said it’s unfair to compare local taxes to other parts of Illinois, or other states where state taxes do not always include school taxes.

“I understand their concern that our (taxes) are so high, but understand also that one of the ways to reinvigorate home sale values is by having a good school district,” Goodwin said.

Part of having a quality education is having quality teachers, Goodwin said, and if a school closed, the district would have to cut teachers that they’ve invested time and money into.

“For us to start cutting programs, enlarging class sizes, while it may appear to save money in the short term, what effect is it going to have on the taxpayers investment, both in the school and in their homes?” Goodwin said.

Goodwin also noted enrollment numbers are always in a state of flux.

Moan said that for the next school year, there are about 80 more eighth-graders going into high school than there will be seniors leaving, which will bring up enrollment at both high schools.

“We always have to monitor enrollment and make sure we have conversations with the board and community,” Moan said.

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to note that Woodstock North High School opened in 2008. The Northwest Herald regrets the error.

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