Champaign weighs redistricting options

By Alissa Groeninger

The Champaign School District is considering options to change the boundaries that determine which of its two high schools students attend.

Superintendent Arthur Culver and demographer Jerome McKibben held two meetings Saturday, one at Central High School and one at Centennial High School, to show two possibilities to the community.

Centennial has about 300 more students than Central. Central has almost 14 percent more kids who receive free or reduced lunches, which is the district’s indicator of low socio-economic status. McKibben said the schools should have a similar ratio of low-income students.

“Kids’ academic achievement is better in diverse settings,” Culver said.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Central obsolete

Parents and members of the community expressed concerns about the possible new boundaries and the need for a new high school.

“(Central is) beyond its useful life,” said Champaign resident Lyle Wachtel.

Wachtel said the school cannot be expanded and that a new school is a necessity.

If the 1 percent increase in sales tax passes in April, the district will use some of those funds for a new high school. However, Culver said it would cost about $80 million to build a new school and the district would have to pass a property tax referendum. He said that the district has trouble passing property tax referendums because the community is conservative.

“I firmly believe … (a referendum) would fail miserably,” said Dave Tomlinson, school board president.

Wachtel said the district needs to make the new school a possibility and was upset with the dismissal of it as a current option.

“Because of the imbalances that are occurring right now we need to do something,” Culver said.

Culver said the administration will make a recommendation based on the input it receives from the community.

“It’s not a done deal,” McKibben said. “It’s never as simple as it seems.”

Parents’ concerns

Parents expressed concerns that students at Centennial receive a higher quality education.

Culver said there is not a significant difference in ACT scores and lower-income students at Central have outperformed lower-income students at Centennial.

He also said that each school has only once made Adequate Yearly Progress, which is a mandate of No Child Left Behind.

McKibben said the process is very complex because of the number of factors that have to be considered. The district has to make sure neither school is over capacity, all children in a neighborhood go to the same school, as few children as possible have to switch schools, and that transportation costs are reduced for busing and for those who drive to school.

These criteria are in addition to making sure students with different socio-economic statuses are split equally between schools.

“It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law,” McKibben said. “I’m going to draw boundaries that are going to keep you out of federal court,” McKibben said.

He expressed the need for the boundaries to work 10 years from now so the district does not have to redistrict again.

“My job is not only to look at the current situation but what the future (situation is),” he added.

Wachtel said the district needs to consider the present and that looking long term is too difficult.

Families with multiple children asked the district to consider allowing younger children to attend the high school their sibling(s) currently attend even if the boundaries change.

Culver said when the redistricting is supposed to take place in 2010-2011, the district will allow eighth graders to attend the school they would have before the boundaries changed.

Weighing options

If the district implements one option and makes all changes at once, 20 percent more students would have to move than if they used their second option. However, changes will not all be made at once, Culver said.

“There won’t be as many children moving … as people might anticipate,” said Gene Logas, chief financial officer for the district.

At the Jan. 26 school board meeting, all the board members said they prefer the first option. While more students would have to switch schools, McKibben said this option is a more permanent solution.

“This is where the rubber meets the road,” McKibben said. “Some kids are going to have to move (and) some areas are going to change.”

If modifications are made, the options presented could be good for the community, Wachtel said.

“I’m taking them on their face that (this was) an initial attempt to promote discussion,” he added.

Tomlinson said the board needs to consider how the changes will affect the entire community.

“All of these children are our kids,” Culver said. “We’re one school district.”