Updating Boundaries in Best Interest of the System

Article excerpt

Byline: Connie Neale

For the first time in anyone's memory, Elgin Area School District U-46 plans to completely reconfigure the attendance patterns of all schools.

The changes will go into effect for elementary and middle school boundaries next school year. Similar adjustments would occur in 2005-06 for high school boundaries as the district plans to open its fifth such facility.

Since this undertaking will alter the current boundaries of each school in the district, it is important for those interested to understand the reasoning and to be informed on the decision-making process.

The board of education plans to make the final decision on elementary and middle school attendance zones at its March 1 meeting.

There will be opportunities for citizens to learn about and express opinions on the proposals prior to that time.

Obviously we know that any adjustment in school boundaries creates anxiety and concern. And we are well aware that a complete overhaul of attendance patterns has the potential to cause quite a controversy.

But such a major step is required if the district is to continue moving forward in a systematic way to create the quality school system we believe its citizens desire and deserve.

Total redistricting will allow us to make maximum use of facilities, to streamline pupil transportation, and to put more students in schools closer to their homes.

Over the years, the district has basically tweaked boundaries of schools when there was a need. Adjustments usually resulted from overcrowding, a program change, the construction of a new school or a new housing development.

Meanwhile, neighborhoods have changed, some schools don't have many children in the surrounding community, and in too many cases youngsters are bussed past two or three schools to get to the one to which they are assigned. The fact is the population continues to move while the school buildings do not.

The boundary maps for the current 39 elementary schools and seven middle schools look like a patchwork quilt. What we're doing is inefficient and often unfair. So with four new schools now scheduled to open in the fall, it's time to do the job right.

Accordingly, we engaged a professional demographer to help. For years, staff and the board's Citizens' Advisory Council have advised the district on boundaries, and they have done a credible job. But they have never had the assistance of someone who makes a living analyzing demographic data and drawing boundary lines.

Use of objective, external expertise is key to our ongoing effort to turn U-46 into a quality, high performing school system. We have used a variety of outside professionals to help us enhance efforts in numerous areas.

Our demographer, Jerome McKibben, has conducted hundreds of studies throughout the country and is highly qualified to assist U- 46.

McKibben was given two basic assignments: to provide a 10-year demographic projection to be used for making key financial and program decisions; and to review and redraw existing elementary and middle school boundaries. …