CHAMPAIGN – While the school district looks at how to fulfill a consent decree mandate to add seats in north Champaign, it also must consider the growing population in Savoy, said school board member Scott Anderson.
He said the explosive growth in Savoy means that area is underserved by the school district.
"I look at that as an inequitable situation," he said at Monday's school board meeting. "The Savoy issue is not going to go away because those families are underserved."
Anderson was responding to questions about the possibility of putting a school in Savoy, and concerns of sprawl, busing and how the district will comply with the consent decree. He said the north seats are an equity issue as well, and the district is trying to be more collaborative this time in coming up with a plan for fulfilling that requirement.
But he said the issue is also political, and the community must buy into whatever plan the district puts forward in a future referendum.
Board member Nathaniel Banks said increasing the performance of black children in the district takes time.
"It takes longer than two or three years for the kinds of changes systematically for African-American children to succeed. They haven't been successful for a generation," he said.
"But it also made a lot of people mad," he added, noting there are people for whom the consent decree has little meaning and is seen as a distraction.
"What we're dealing with is several communities, all of which want the absolute attention of the Champaign school district," Banks said.
School officials also discussed the possibility of an extended school day.
Superintendent Arthur Culver said the district's school day is the shortest he's encountered, and extending it is an issue he'd like to raise again with the teachers' union.
"The school day is too short, and teachers don't have time to cram everything in that they teach," he said.
Board member Dave Tomlinson said he'd support an extended school day, as long as it included time for foreign language and arts education.
Several parents and teachers at the meeting expressed support for arts and music. Others raised concerns about the makeup of gifted classrooms, the foods served at school, and the preservation of historic school buildings and small schools.
Brenda Koenig, a parent and vice president of the PTA, said she'd like to see more informal, in-depth discussions of issues between school officials and parents, where parents and community members could ask direct questions.
"That's what we're here for. Fire away," Tomlinson said.
Koenig urged board members and administrators to walk the few steps from the Mellon administration building to South Side and talk personally with a diverse group of parents.
"Town meetings are a great way to do that, and I applaud you for beginning that process," she said.