UPDATE: Dist. 205 Parents, Teachers React to Closings Plan

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ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Parents and neighbors who live in the Churchill Grove neighborhood in Rockford speak up about the proposed closer of Walker Elementary School near their homes. Some who don’t even have students at the school say the building is an essential part of their neighborhood.

Alex Johnson says his first grader raves about his teacher at Walker, and Johnson likes that the school is in his neighborhood. This Rockford father says he sees too many positives at the school, and it shouldn’t be one of seven that District 205 plans to close down.

"It seems completely unnecessary, with all the parents and all the kids, it's a huge threat. We've all got to worry about it now, what's the school district going to do, we don’t know and we shouldn't have to worry about the education of our kids. We pay our taxes and that's what our taxes go to,” says Johnson.

The Rockford School District says 23% percent of the seats at Walker are empty, prompting the consolidation idea. Even though Ashlee Schmidt’s kids aren't old enough to attend Walker she also doesn't want to see the building shuttered.

"Our daughter is three and in a year or so we going to start figuring out what to do for her and it’s so convenient being across the street, it would be sad not to have that option anymore,” says Schmidt.

The district has not said if the building will be sold or demolished or what other school the students from Walker would attend.

More details should be released Monday.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) – The Rockford Public School District has announced a major shakeup that involves school closures, consolidations, and the shifting of hundreds of students and staff members.

The closures are a part of the district’s 10-year $250 million facilities plan. The idea is to improve all 49 schools. We’ve just learned of three specific plans that the community will be able to weigh in on. Every one of those proposals involves closing at least seven schools.

District 205 says they aren’t talking about the changes until Monday, but that won’t stop us from talking about this major development.

The schools that are closing are Dennis Early Childhood Center, West View, Walker and King Elementary Schools on the west side. Kishwaukee, Thompson and Cherry Valley will also close.

There are three plans, under one of the plans, both Cherry Valley and White Swan would close and a new school would be built somewhere on the east side. Also under that plan, Nelson elementary would close. A new school would be put up in that area where Nelson and Kishwaukee would close.

At this point, the district is not saying which students would have to combine with what schools. To accommodate more students, Conklin, Welsh, McIntosh, Lewis Lemon and Beyer schools could see additions built on. Additions could also come to Bloom, Carlson, Gregory, Swan Hillman, Whitehead, Brookview, Riverdahl. If Nelson and White Swan don’t close, additions are also a possible for those two schools.

In all three plans, Montessori will move to Marsh Elementary school. The gifted program at Washington will then move to Montessori. Nashold and Riverdahl students will consolidate into one school and so will Cherry Valley and White Swan students. Pre-K programs will then be housed at Nashold, Lathrop, Summerdale and Fairview, going from 10 sites to four. Bilingual programs will also move closer to the homes of bilingual students.

The district points out several issues as reasons for the closures and consolidations. They say many of the schools have large vacancies. For example, at King, 46% of the seats are empty. They say smaller schools provide fewer resources because some teachers split their time between schools. Also, many kids are still scattered in different zones even though the district moved to neighborhood schools years ago. They also say some of the buildings are just too old.

District 205 says that no one should lose their jobs due to the closures because they’ll still have the same number of students. Instead, they’re just moving to other buildings.

The district says it doesn’t have an exact timeline on when these changes will take effect, but says no changes will be made in the 2014-2015 school year. A final decision on one of these three plans is expected at the June 24th board meeting.

We’ll be continuing to update you on any new details that come from this plan. We’ll be meeting with administrators and the people who helped come up with these plans on Monday, so we’ll bring you their responses then.

There will be 39 community input sessions to get feedback on all three plans. The first three sessions kick off Monday at Welsh and Spring Creek Elementary schools as well as Washington Academy. A complete list can be found within the brochure in the related links and documents sections.

25 years ago, the Rockford School District attempted to close 10 schools mostly on Rockford’s west side, prompting the People Who Care lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by District 205. The pending suit made district leaders reopen four elementary school but did not prevent West High from being made into a middle school. Michael Williams was on the school board and voted against that plan. We asked him to take a first look at these three proposals. He says Rockford neighbors have shown their support and confidence in the district leaders by supporting a tax referendum and the administration needs to respect that trust.

"It is somewhat déjà vu because we had a series of meetings around the community as well and in fact the community did an exceptional job of analyzing that data and returning with alternative recommendations which was ignored by the board and I am hoping that doesn't happen this time around,” said former school board president, Michael Williams.

Williams foresees an emotional process as families will make their case to save their schools. He says one key piece of information many parents will want to know is which teachers and principals will be leading the schools that stay open and take on the new students.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) – The Rockford Public School District has announced three plans that would close up to nine elementary schools.

All three of the plans are in effort to improve learning and reduce costs. According to the district, none of the three plans would result in staffing or teacher cuts and tax increases would not be necessary.

In all three of the plans the district outlines:

- Montessori (pre-K through eighth grades) will move to Marsh Elementary School
- Bilingual programs will be concentrated closer to bilingual students’ homes
- Paired schools are consolidated: Cherry Valley (3-5) and White Swan (K-2)/Nashold (3-5) and Riverdahl (K-2)
- Pre-K housed in four centers at Nashold, Lathrop, Summerdale, Fairview
- Year-round program remains at Haskell
- Dual-language program remains at Barbour
- Costs $250M and sets aside $11M for demolition and fees tied to closing schools

Plan A:

Closes 7 schools
Additions at 15 schools
Renovations at 13 schools
Furniture $12M
Maintenance $211M
Additional funding for
deferred maintenance $16M
New elementary schools $0

Plan B:

Closes 8 schools
Additions at 14 schools
Renovations at 13 schools
Furniture $4M
Maintenance $207M
Additional funding for
deferred maintenance $11M
New elementary schools $17M

Plan C:

Closes 9 schools
Additions at 13 schools
Renovations at 13 schools
Furniture $4M
Maintenance $201M
Additional funding for
deferred maintenance $0
New elementary schools $34M

Seven schools are definitely closing, no matter which plan is chosen. They are:

- Dennis
- West View
- Walker
- King
- Kishwaukee
- Thompson
- Cherry Valley

In plan B, Nelson would be added to the above list. If plan C is chosen, Nelson and White Swan would be added to the seven schools slated to close.

District 205 will be asking for community input on the three plans in the coming weeks.

A link for more information on each of the plans, including a list of the schools that would be closed can be found in the related links section.

Education reporter Lauren Kravets will go more in depth on this tonight on 23 News at 5, 6, and 10.

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