The collapse of the housing market had broad impact across the nation and in McHenry County, and while housing has slowly been recovering the reverberations of that 2008 collapse still are evident in many places including the public school system.
A decade ago, more rooftops were coming, not just through some enrollment projection sophistry, but actual developments had been approved and in some cases were underway when the market came to a screeching halt.
One of McHenry County’s most visible evidence of the aftermath is on display east of Dean Street and west of Route 47 where the still-shiny complex that contains Creekside Middle School and Prairiewood Elementary school can be seen across vast fields on the edge of the Apple Creek housing development – the expected site in 2007 of about 1,100 units.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Woodstock School District 200, along with some other McHenry County school districts and their taxpayers, are stuck with too much school building space and not enough children to fill desks.
The problem is not unique to McHenry County; formerly booming Will County faced similar issues that school districts there also have wrestled with.
In the case of School District 200, a task force was formed made up of staff, parents and other stakeholders to study feasible solutions that could offer some relief to taxpayers. It would make recommendations, but the ultimate decision will rest with the school board.
A great deal was put on the table, including combining Woodstock North and Woodstock high schools, which isn’t as easy as it sounds since both schools are operating at more than half capacity. The closure of another elementary school and one of the district’s two middle schools also was discussed. The community was surveyed; input was sought.
The Facilities Review Committee’s recommendations were released early this month, and while some might argue that it didn’t go far enough, some real cost-saving recommendations were made, including closing Dean Street Elementary School, selling property that now houses district administrative offices and ending a lease for more administrative space.
If the Woodstock School District 200 Board goes ahead with the recommendations when it is expected to take a vote in May, the district could see a few million dollars in savings over the next 10 years.
Any relief that taxpayers can get without sacrificing the quality of education is worth doing. Schools get more than half of your property taxes because of the way Illinois funds education. We hope all school districts are conducting some form of internal examination each year to look for any potential savings.
Whether more could be done to find savings in District 200 now is in the hands of the school board, but we applaud the real efforts undertaken by the Facilities Review Committee and urge the board to give it serious consideration with taxpayers and district students in mind.