BEVERLY — The proposed merger of Sutherland and Kellogg elementary schools would merely shift the problem of overcrowding from Mount Greenwood to Beverly, according to several comments from the community Friday night.
The notion of solving one problem only to create another was a reoccurring theme at the special meeting held in the school's auditorium at 10015 S. Leavitt St., where the crowd spilled into the balcony.
The plan unveiled Tuesday afternoon by Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) not only shifts Kellogg's students to Sutherland's Beverly campus. It also moves the Keller Regional Gifted Center from 3020 W. 108th St. in Mount Greenwood to Kellogg's building at 9241 S. Leavitt St. in Beverly.
Keller would enjoy a slightly larger facility and allow Mount Greenwood Elementary School to take over its campus just 3½ blocks away at 10841 S. Homan Ave. Administration from Mount Greenwood would then oversee both buildings of the potentially expanded campus, O'Shea said.
Meanwhile, the money saved by shifting students between the buildings rather than relying on new construction would be funneled into improvements at Esmond Elementary School at 1865 W. Montvale Ave. in Morgan Park, O'Shea said.
The plan relies on O'Shea's argument that neighborhood participation at Kellogg and Sutherland is dwindling while conversely surging at Mount Greenwood. He also believes that Esmond is in dire need of investment after years of being overlooked.
Principal Eric Steinmiller argued that enrollment declines at Sutherland have been overstated. He said 624 students attend his school this year, down from 697 last year. Still, Sutherland continues to be rated "efficient" according to Chicago Public Schools' standards, he said.
Steinmiller also said just 10 percent of all Sutherland students attend through the Options for Knowledge program, which allows students living outside of the neighborhood boundaries to apply to enroll. O'Shea, who authored the plan with state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), said such students have been used to maintain populations — and thus funding — at both Sutherland and Kellogg during the downturn.
Students already enrolled through the program at the Beverly schools would still graduate with their class if the merger were to move ahead, O'Shea said. However, there would presumably be fewer such spots in the combined school going forward.
Several parents speaking at the meeting took issue with this aspect of the plan, saying the proposed merger eliminates Kellogg — a high-ranking school — for parents outside of the neighborhood looking for quality education options. Likewise, others said the plan deals a blow to local diversity.
"It's a divisive plan, and it is not who we are as Beverly," said Jeff Pinzino, who said he moved to the neighborhood both because of the quality public schools and the community integration.
Laurie Cleary, a Sutherland LSC member, added that the move would jam more than 800 students into the school. Thus, Sutherland would return to the days of having classes in the hallways and forcing music, art, technology and other teachers to bounce from room to room with rolling carts rather than having dedicated space.
"This is not good for Kellogg. It is not good for Sutherland. It is only good for the schools to the west of us," Cleary said.
LSC member Chris Steinmetz questioned the numbers O'Shea used as the basis for his proposal. He also looked at Sutherland's long-term student population and said the lower numbers seen this year are simply part of a natural ebb and flow.
Steinmetz believes Sutherland's student population will soon recover, based on data he's examined over the last 30 years. Adding Kellogg's students will immediately result in overcrowding and lead to continued problems when things predictably rebound, he said.
"The numbers do not line up no matter how you look at them," he said.
O'Shea and Cunningham did not attend the meeting, but the alderman will host another such forum at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Beverly Arts Center. This meeting at 2407 W. 111th St. in Morgan Park will be among several O'Shea plans to attend and host ahead of any final decision.
"I am also happy to meet with parents and residents on a one-on-one basis," said O'Shea in an email.
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