With CSD Enrollment Rising, Superintendent Urges Board to Think About Westchester

From Superintendent Phyllis Edwards’ letter to the School Board prior to next week’s meeting…

Since the enrollment continues to grow, even without annexation, the Board may wish to consider next steps so that the Westchester building may be turned back into a school site. It is my belief that a committee should be organized next year to look at the possibilities, cost, and timeline. I have said, at previous meetings, that one way to re-open would be to consider making Westchester a “choice” school. You might consider a controlled choice option – residents in the immediate zone would have preference to attend Westchester but anyone else that wished to go to the school would be included if space allowed. Usually a lottery is used in these cases. A choice school can be developed based on the type of educational program or delivery system employed or perhaps in the case of our school system on other criteria. I certainly am willing to begin such a process with a group of community members/parents that might be interested in such a discussion. Certainly we would want to identify a timeline toward relocating the central office personnel. It might also serve as a site to house overflow pre-K classes or classes serving students with disabilities. I would recommend establishing a plan so you might be ready to implement in 2013-2014.

32 thoughts on “With CSD Enrollment Rising, Superintendent Urges Board to Think About Westchester”

  1. Good to think ahead and I think that the NW corner is about the only area of Decatur without a public school of some sort right now. Not to mention that this facility is already built. Given that we’ve established on another thread that Decatur will soon be so diverse that we’ll be homogenous, we no longer need to worry about having to zone to deal with de facto segregation. But I’ll sure miss chanting “Free Westchester”. Are there any liberal causes left?

  2. Hmmmmm… open Westchester… yes, sure. However, make it a neighborhood school not some special lottery based school serving the entire city. Also, wouldn’t it be nice to return to six K-5 in 2013-2014 while we are at it.

    1. Isn’t that going to be an option as described above–anyone in Westchester area can attend but then if there’s still room, others can? I guess that IS a little different than having a true Westchester zone. Is it that the Westchester area has enough students to tip the scales into overcrowded but not so many as to fill up a whole school? Are happy Clairemont and Oakhurst families worried that they might get zoned over to Westchester? Isn’t that what happened to us Westchester families in reverse just 6 years ago…..wait, I didn’t say that. Strike that from the record, your Honor! This is the problem with closing and then reopening a school…you resettle everyone and then the families of the younger children never knew the old school so they don’t want to go back. Kind of like Alsace-Lorraine between Germany and France. And those of us who would have loved to go back to Westchester won’t get a chance to because our children outgrew it, or at least the K-3 version of it. But even I would not have more children just for the chance to go back to Westchester!

      Or is this just a trial balloon to distract us from the Bell Schedule issue?

  3. I appreciate the forward thinking in order to avoid overcrowding and wondering if it should go further?
    Would in be legal for CSD to perform a yearly census of all of Decatur households in order to plan for enrollment for the future? The number of children under five years old on McKoy street alone is substantial and I imagine this is not unique to our street.
    I worry that one of the biggest draws of Decatur-CSD, will become plagued by its own success if we don’t plan for the future.

  4. It’s pretty easy to see a scenario where CSD has opened Westchester and still is overcrowded.. even by 2013/2014.

      1. my evil plan of putting perfectly good school back into CSD rotation is starting to come to fruition . .. the shackles of administrative offices will soon be broken and children will be able to run free once again in the halls of Westchester ..the only problem is Cheryl Kuebler has retired …..

        1. Maybe Cheryl Kuebler would come back….?!!! We can always dream! Or maybe when Dr. Edwards decides to retire (and I am not one to hurry her), perhaps Ms. Kuebler would apply…?!!!! Ms. Kuebler would not allow squabbling between Board members just as she didn’t allow squabbling at school. Anyone who used the word “stupid” on this blog would be fined a dime. All of the playgrounds would be neat, well-trimmed with no prickly weeds. And since she always had a word root or form for the week, we would even make headway on dyslexia!

  5. Woohoo! I am excited but surprised to read Dr. Edwards’ letter. I live on Westchester and have a toddler, so this would work wonderfully for us. Regretably, such a measure would not heal the wounds of my neighbors with older kids who are understandingly sore with the school system. Sarah, I agree with your sentiment re: k-5. Good idea.

  6. Kudos to Dr. Edwards. There was a time when some people were saying she’d never allow Westchester to be reopened. And now she is starting the conversation.

    One worrying question: If enrollments are continuing to rise even without annexation, why is it that the 2012 Budget which will be discussed at Tuesday’s BoE meeting projects enrollments staying flat for the foreseeable future?

    Bringing a new school online costs $500K in principal, administration, and other costs before adding the first teacher to the building. We may need to be more aggressive in containing costs, if we’re going to be prepared to re-open Westchester when it is needed.

    1. Good question Garrett. I’m still not sure that incremental student enrollment is economically accretive even if students are added without the additional costs associated with a new school.

      However, I think it’s possible that a more broadly applied ‘controlled choice’ option could provide some additional financial efficiencies if applied well. I’m just not sure how without more analysis.

      1. Right. The state per pupil funding is only about 30%. Local property taxes make up most of the rest. So every time enrollments grow, the amount we have per pupil shrinks. The only way to increase property tax revenues when property values are flat is to raise the millage rate.

        We’re still 7x K-3 classrooms short of where the last reconfiguration analysis told us we’d need to be when we decided to rebuild 5th Ave. and convert Glennwood to a K-3. Opening Westchester would meet that need without requiring trailers. The financial efficiencies would come from being able to redirect overflow from the other K-3’s to Westchester so that we can maximize pupil per teacher ratios.

        However, there is a real possibility that within a year or two of 5th Avenue re-opening, we’ll need trailers there. The school is designed for 600 students. Our enrollments tend to be highest in the primary grades. All it would take is for our average 4-5 enrollments per grade to exceed 300 pupils. I believe we already have done that for some of the K-3 grades. We might be able to get by for a year or two using trailers or (slippery slope) increasing class sizes. But it is also possible that we could be looking at “phase 2” construction at 5th Avenue or another reconfiguration in 2-3 years time.

        We really need to find a configuration that is flexible enough to deal with the 15 year cycle of rising and declining enrollments. I don’t think we’re there yet. -But it is probably a bit early to start talking about needing to reconfigure… again.

        Board member John Ahmann has indicated that he would like to put an action item on the agenda at Tuesday the 14th’s BoE meeting at Westchester which would consider a lease purchase agreement for our buses. It looks like a very simple way to reduce transportation costs by owning our buses instead of getting them from Dekalb. I would assume in an economy like this, BoE members would jump on low hanging fruit measures to cut costs. But apparently the chair and superintendent didn’t choose to put it on the agenda.

        If you would like to show your support, there is an iPetition setup which recommends the BoE members consider it and a 8:45a start time at DHS:

    2. It’s not only the cost of reopening Westchester as a school, but also of new admin space. I’m sure there’s lots of office space in Decatur for relatively cheap these days, but still. This adds a very big wrinkle to the budget slated for a vote on Tuesday.

      1. 1. It’s probably easier and cheaper to move a few Central Office staff around periodically to whevever there’s some space within our schools than it is to move several hundred children, teachers, and school staff for new buildings or renovations. I’ve helped many a teacher strip and pack up her/his entire classroom in preparation for a move/renovation. Maybe Central Office would have to be split e.g. into Curriculum and Administrative Offices.
        2. My favorite destination for Central Office would be the Big H lot. It’s close to the majority of CSD schools, good eating, and lots of parking.

    1. I think the politics and community sentiment are shifting. And/or maybe there’s some new demographic info out on the table–my informal rugrat detector indicates that are babies and toddlers in every corner of Decatur, even those that used to be more dated neighborhoods (older brick and asbestos shingles homes, not yet craftsmanized) with mostly older residents. And/or maybe this is a distraction from the bell schedule tensions.

      1. It ain’t new, but your comment got me wondering what the Decatur Citizen Survey said about “Children in Households”. Check out this % of respondents that have children in their household from the past 3 waves.

        2006: 25%
        2008: 31%
        2010: 34%

        It went up 3 points during a recession! YIKES. (OK, yes the margin of error is 5%, but still…) Forget the space issue, we better hurry up and figure out how we’re going to pay for a school system when 40% of households have kids in them!

        1. Of course it goes up during a recession. When you can’t afford movies, restaurants, or vacations, what else is there to do?

            1. Yes. Birth rates go up after a blackout but down during a recession. I suspect that what’s going on in Decatur is an influx of young families rather than an increase in children per /family.

  7. I won’t be commenting on anything this weekend because I have to pick up the pieces of my exploded head.

    1. Call me. I found a piece of skull that is probably yours. You may need it.

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