District 202 will build an 18th elementary school as part of a plan to create enough space to be able to offer full-day kindergarten for all eligible students.
The Board of Education voted 5-2 in favor of the measure at its April 15, 2019 regular meeting.
Board members Heather Drake and Dr. Michael Robey voted no. Both stressed that they support the concept of and the need for full-day kindergarten. Still, they questioned the project’s cost and preferred getting more information about other options before voting. The Board has been discussing and studying this proposal since January 2019.
“The is a historic night for us in District 202. It is an exciting time and I want to thank the Board of Education for investing in the future of our students and families and moving this plan forward so that we can better serve our entire community,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lane Abrell.
“Parents have wanted full-day kindergarten since even before I first came to the district in 1997. This is an important step in our work to provide the best possible educational system for District 202 students and families,” he said.
District officials have been waiting for enrollment to decrease and finances to stabilize after the recession and years of unreliable state funding.
“We certainly understand, respect and appreciate everyone’s concerns about finances,” said Board of Education President Greg Nichols.
However, Nichols said District 202 has finally achieved some fiscal stability thanks to the new state funding formula. “We have to take advantage of this unique opportunity to realize a major goal,” he said.
“I applaud everyone on the Board for their commitment to doing what’s best for kids and at the same time, protecting our community’s resources,” Nichols said.
Full-day kindergarten has been a high priority for District 202 for many years. It was one of four major goals identified in the 2011 five-year strategic plan.
However, the 17 current elementary schools do not have enough space to accommodate the estimated 1,500 students who would be eligible for kindergarten.
As well, unique space requirements for various special education, early childhood and at-risk programs also limit the room available for full-day kindergarten.
Therefore, District 202 for the last three years has offered a limited full-day kindergarten program. Twenty-four students were picked through a computerized, random lottery at each of the 17 elementary schools – 408 students total.
The limited full-day kindergarten program will continue until the new school opens.
The new school will be a full-service, K-5 elementary school similar in size and design to the last few elementary schools built during the district’s heavy growth period. It will house about 800 students.
It will be built on land the district already owns, though the exact site has not been determined yet. Construction will take two to three years.
The new school will stabilize space requirements and assignments for several specialized programs that currently move to different buildings based on need and available space.
The new school will cost about $25 million. However, District 202 will use a special “leasing” option and pay the lender $2.5 million a year for 10 years from existing and anticipated funding. Personnel and operational costs will add about $2 million a year. After 10 years, District 202 will take ownership of the property.
District 202 will not have to increase tax rates to pay for the new building. Individual tax bills may increase based on individual property values, but the district’s tax rate will not increase because of this project.
Administration will continue to monitor early childhood and special education needs and programming and adjust as needed when the new building opens.
The district will adjust attendance boundaries as needed when the project nears completion to ensure equitable programming and enrollment at all 18 elementary schools.