At a packed school board meeting on Aug 13, Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, based in New Lenox, Ill., approved the closing of Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfort at the end of the 2015-16 school year, the Daily Southtown reports.
The closure is part of a plan to reduce the district’s structural deficit. A listing on the state’s watch list for financially troubled districts requires District 210 to send its financial plan to the state board in September. The closure, expected to save about $5.2 million annually, only puts a small dent in the district’s estimated $33 million deficit.
School will start in this final year at North for students on Wednesday, Aug 19. The graduation date isn’t available yet, as the district keeps open the possibility of snow days.
One plan that has worked at the four high schools has been the district’s way of ensuring that students from the same feeder middle schools attend the same high school. Now those students will have three choices within District 210 instead of four, including Lincoln-Way Central, Lincoln-Way East, and Lincoln-Way West high schools. Students coming from Martino Junior High in New Lenox District 122 and from Mokena District 159 will attend Central. Those from Liberty Junior High in District 122 will attend West, as will students from Manhattan District 114. Other students coming into Lincoln-Way, including those from Frankfort District 157C and Summit Hill District 161, will go to East.
The district considered other options, including cutting classes and extracurricular programs or increasing property taxes twice by 5 percent each for the next two years. None of those options seemed as palatable in light of the district’s commitment “to providing the experiences and opportunities necessary to maximize the academic and social growth of all students.”
“We have great schools with outstanding academic and extracurricular opportunities for students, and that will not change,” Superintendent R Scott Tingley said.
The district could also have closed Central, which is much older. North was built in response to a strong growth in housing that subsided quickly during the recession. Lincoln-Way Central, in New Lenox, was built in 1958 and was the district’s only high school for more than four decades. East came up around the turn of the century as growth began. The district honestly projected to have a total enrollment of 10,100 by the 2013-14 school year, but the number was only 7,246 two years ago, representing an overestimate by nearly 40 percent.
Now the district expects enrollment to drop to about 6,600 by 2020. For every drop in enrollment of 1,000 students, the district receives about $6 million less in general state aid, and this drop in funding from the state has, more than anything else, resulted in the current budget deficit. However, the state has also failed to fund schools at the levels originally expected. This problem affects every public school in Illinois but has made districts throw their expectations of funding onto the scrap heap.
Central and East high schools each have a capacity of 3,750, while the capacity at North and West, which opened in 2008 and 2009, respectively, is only 2,500 at each school.
The district plans to lease the building in order to raise revenue and, if the situation changes, could reopen North. That’s not likely, given projections, so I hope the tightly-knit Lincoln-Way community, where my niece and two nephews went to school, can pull together and grow from this experience, making three schools just as strong as four schools were.