Officials explain plans to relocate Carrie Busey Elementary

Officials explain plans to relocate Carrie Busey Elementary

CHAMPAIGN – When Ata Durukan and his wife were picking a school for their daughter, who is now in the first grade, they had quite a few schools within a mile and a half of their home.

They chose the closest – Carrie Busey Elementary School, their neighborhood school.

"It's well within walking distance for us, and that was the main factor in our choice," Durukan said.

He was concerned when he heard about plans to move the school's staff and students to a new school building in Savoy if the school-facility-sales-tax proposal passes in November. His main concern was not the distance, but whether the teachers would all move with the school.

"The faculty and staff are excellent, and we really value what they do for students here," Durukan said. "That's really the main factor for us ... keeping the teachers as a unit."

He found out Tuesday evening they would all be assigned to the new school. His concern was shared by many parents, said Principal Zanita Willis.

"I had parents concerned that Carrie Busey wouldn't be Carrie Busey. They like the feel of it. We're a community," Willis said. "They wanted reassurance that staff would all be moved, that they wouldn't have to apply for their jobs."

School district officials talked to the Carrie Busey PTA on Tuesday about their plans for the school.

Should the sales tax pass, the district would use some of the money it would receive to build a new elementary school in Savoy and move the Carrie Busey students and staff there.

Parents at the meeting Tuesday asked if they could choose another school if they didn't want to go to Savoy (yes); if younger siblings would get to go to the Savoy school (yes); and if the school would still be called Carrie Busey (that's the plan).

A parent also asked why Carrie Busey was chosen to be the school that moves. The answer: because of its location. Those living near Carrie Busey have a choice of six elementary schools within a mile and a half of their homes, said school board President Dave Tomlinson.

LaShorage Shaffer's is one of those families. Her son, in the second grade, walks to and from school every day. She doesn't want to put him on a bus to Savoy.

"For me, it's a little disheartening," Shaffer said. "We chose this school because of the proximity, and that option will be taken away from us."

But the extra distance doesn't bother Craig Gillette. His home is too far from Carrie Busey for his second-grade daughter to walk to school.

"I'm from New York originally, so nothing's really that far here," he said. "I have to travel almost halfway to Savoy to get to work anyway."

And a new school building would be nice, he said.

That sentiment is shared by Nancy Seward, who teaches first grade at Carrie Busey.

"I think the plans are sound," she said. "I think they're looking to the future, looking to the needs of children for technology, for energy-efficiency, for air-conditioning."

Seward spent 25 years at Washington Elementary School before coming to Carrie Busey, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and she was curious to see how her co-workers would react to the plans for the move.

"I know what it feels like to be attached to a school. I know what it feels like to have a community you belong to," she said.

Seward said the teachers she has talked to are supportive of the plans for the move.

Willis said the school needs more space. A new building would provide a larger computer lab and a gym separate from the cafeteria.

She said the school would also benefit from greater economic diversity. Right now, 60 percent of students come from low-income families. A better balance of economic status could provide the school with more resources to meet students' needs, she said.

Once the new school is built, if the sales tax passes, the current Carrie Busey would be used as a transitional building to house six other elementary schools in turn as their buildings are renovated. When that work is done in 2016, the district will likely need another elementary school, Tomlinson said. A recent demographic study estimates the district will have another 200 students by then, and its elementary schools will all be at or near their optimal capacity, he said.

The current Carrie Busey building could be reopened as a school, or the district could decide to put a school in another area where the city is growing, said Superintendent Arthur Culver.