Here are some of the facts the Champaign school board was presented with Friday night before it took its controversial vote to stand by an earlier vote to locate a new school in the Boulder Ridge subdivision in far northwest Champaign:
– A federal consent decree requires only that the school board add two strands of classrooms north of University Avenue. It does not require that the new school (or an addition to an existing school) be located within Champaign's African-American community. Thus, the site in Boulder Ridge satisfies the consent decree.
– There are 144 African-American elementary school-age children who already live in close proximity to the new school site, meaning that black students will not have to be bused to the school to integrate it. The area is already naturally integrated.
– $32 million of the $66 million in planned construction and renovation in Tuesday's bond issue vote is to go to schools on Champaign's north side, including $10 million for the Boulder Ridge school, $10 million for a new Dr. Howard School, $4.6 million for a gym and performing arts space, plus other improvements, at Booker T. Washington School, and $3.4 million for two new classrooms and a gym and performing arts space at Garden Hills School. The black community and the schools in the traditionally black neighborhoods are not being shortchanged.
– A "compromise" plan floated after last Monday's school board meeting – to add on to Booker T. Washington – would mean that an already undersized school site (at just 1.75 acres) would be further congested with more classrooms, more students and more traffic.
– Unfortunately, no other vacant sites north of University Avenue were available for construction that are as safe for children, as inexpensive and in an area growth like the Boulder Ridge site.
In fact, the school district's bond issue referendum fact sheet, prepared weeks before last Monday's vote on the Boulder Ridge site, indicated that the new school would have "to satisfy the requirements of the consent decree and to prepare for anticipated growth in subdivisions like Boulder Ridge, Sawgrass and Ashland Park." A better location for the new school may have been near the Dobbins Downs neighborhood north of Interstate 74 but sites there were deemed either too expensive or too close to areas of heavy automobile traffic.
The school board was not duplicitous, as some have charged, in voting to place a new school outside of the traditionally black community. There already are three elementary schools – Washington, Garden Hills and Stratton – in the traditionally African-American neighborhood. Two of those schools already are underused.
The traditionally black neighborhood of north and northeast Champaign is not growing. Building more classroom space there – while other parts of Champaign are expanding – would be wasteful and inefficient. As school board member Arlene Blank noted, "Whether you believe it or not, the African-American community is moving west."
And that is where the school board – correctly – wants to build a new school. Voters should keep that in mind when they go to the polls tomorrow.