Champaign school officials give suggestions for reorganization

Superintendent's team recommends having K-8 school, rebuilding Edison, Dr. Howard

CHAMPAIGN — If Unit 4's administration had its way, both Edison Middle and Dr. Howard Elementary schools would be rebuilt at new locations, and the district would offer at least one school providing classes for grades K-8.

As the Champaign school district ponders how to configure its elementary and middle schools in the future — while also preparing to ask voters in November to pay for a new Central High School — Superintendent Judy Wiegand shared her administrative team's preferences with the school board at Monday night's meeting.

The board has been considering a variety of scenarios — some involving closing, consolidating, moving or even demolishing school buildings.

Wiegand said her team recommends components from three of those scenarios. Its endorsements include:

— Not relocating Edison to the current Central High building, as proposed in multiple scenarios, but instead rebuilding the middle school on a new site.

— Building a new Dr. Howard Elementary School at a new location.

— Consolidating programs and services now offered at the Mellon Administrative Center and the former Columbia School into one location, so as to reduce operational costs.

— Having at least one K-8 school in a district that currently has none.

— Polling registered voters about the future of Central and the introduction of K-8 schools to the district.

— Either selling the current Central building, keeping it for programs or a combination of the two.

"I believe it is important that the board communicates to the community what the plan will be," Wiegand said.

Following her presentation, all seven school board members discussed publicly what they would like the district's facilities plan to include.

Board President Laurie Bonnett said staff members at Edison told her they do not want to be moved to the Central building: "There are some safety issues that we should be concerned about (at Edison). It was dark and dingy in there. It was depressing to be in a room, and it was a sunny day."

Board member Jamar Brown said he favors having a K-8 school: "If it doesn't suit your fancy, then don't send your child to that school. But they should have an option."

Board member Kristine Chalifoux said she supports keeping three middle schools, but adding space to them: "Edison needs something. Do you renovate it in place and build an addition to it, or build a new Edison? It will be cheaper to build a new Edison."

In other business Monday:

— The school board voted 7-0 to accept a bid of $2,000,002 from CSSC to sell the former Marquette School at 203 S. Fifth St., C. Unit 4's Matt Foster would only say that CSSC is a limited liability property firm.

The money from the sale — combined with income from the school district's portion of the 1 percent countywide sales tax — gives Unit 4 enough cash to buy 80 acres in north Champaign for $3.2 million for the proposed new Central.

— The board voted 6-1 to hire the Champaign firm of Gorski Reifsteck/DLR Group to provide architectural consulting services for the programming phase of the new high school and work at Centennial. The cost: $120,000. Board member Lynn Stuckey voted no.

District spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said there will be a separate bidding process to hire a firm for the final design of the proposed new Central.

— The last day for students will be June 3 (regular calendar) and June 9 (balanced calendar). The board voted 7-0 to change the dates because of the glut of snow days this winter.

— The school board voted 7-0 to appoint Mallory Morris as assistant principal at Stratton Elementary School.

Wait's over

Of 681 kindergarten families that signed up for Champaign's Schools of Choice program, the majority got good news recently. The results of 2014-15 kindergarten assignments, announced Monday night:

671 families, or 98.5%, received one of their top five choices.

88.7% received their top choice — up from 85% a year earlier.

4.5% got their second choice, 4.0% their third, 1.8% their fourth, 0.9% their fifth.

10 families remain unassigned, down from 42 last year.

52% of applicants qualify for free or reduced school lunches.

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