Board ends Sandburg option in Dist. 146

By Jeff Vorva

While the High School District 230 board of education tried to appease as many members of its community as it could, its vote on option zones didn’t please one section of Orland Park citizens.

The board voted 7-0 at last Thursday’ meeting in the Andrew High School gym to keep the District 118 Option Zone status quo. However, District 146 students going to Central Middle School in Tinley Park assigned to Andrew in Tinley Park will lose their option to attend Sandburg High School in Orland Park starting in 2016. The board grandfathered in a clause that would allow for siblings of students who attend Sandburg to still attend that school, but beginning in 2019, those who choose Sandburg will need to provide their own transportation.

The moves are intended to balance the future enrollment of the district’s three schools and to boost enrollment at Andrew, which could fall from 2,224 students this year to 1,807 in 2016-17.

Originally, Superintendent James Gay’s recommendation was to eliminate the District 118 option zone, which would have required students who live across the street from Sandburg to attend Stagg High School in Palos Hills, which is five miles away. That community presented an 875-signature petition to the board during a special board meeting Sept. 18 that drew close to 500 people at the Center School gym and communicated its concerns with the board via emails and website feedback. Gay reversed his stance on that issue, saying Thursday “The fact these homes directly surround Sandburg High School makes it unique enough to warrant maintaining the option zone to that area.”

He also addressed the complaints of some District 146 parents concerned with allowing siblings to attend the same high school with the grandfather clause. One district teacher said the board used “Solomon-esque wisdom” in handling the situation but not everyone agreed.

 Seconds after the board made its decision, some members of the crowd, estimated at less than 100, walked out muttering and some audibly criticized the decision.

After the meeting, Orland Park’s Renee Kusper voiced her displeasure. She noted that a section of Orland Park in District 146 is affected by the decision. Although she could take advantage of the grandfather clause, she is upset that the district will not provide transportation if her current third grade son chooses Sandburg in the future.

“Even my third grader said ‘Mom, they are not giving us a choice,’” Kusper said. “It’s upsetting that there is one square mile of Orland Park that is being forced out of its community school.”

Kusper said she would be willing to pay for transportation. She refers to herself as a “band mom” and also said she has no complaints about Andrew’s educational program but she said she was told the band fee at the Tinley Park school is in the $800 range while it’s in the $130 range at Sandburg.

Cheryl Herrin, of Orland Park, said the board should have granted the District 146 area an option zone, similar to District 118.

“I know people who want to send their children to Andrew,” she said. “We should have the option that those who want to continue to go to Sandburg to do so and those who want to go to Andrew would go there. The enrollment numbers would balance themselves out by choice and not by force. Families could choose what’s best for their children.”

Gay mentioned in the past that if Andrew’s numbers dip into the 1,800s, some classes and extracurricular activities could be cut.

Board member Mike Hastings, an Andrew graduate, is happy with the changes.

“Dr. Gay is a strategic leader and is making a very informed decision on the interest of Andrew High School and the best interest of the district as a whole,” he said. “This will help equalize and stabilize the enrollment differences between Andrew and Sandburg.

“I understand the taxpayers’ concerns,” he added. “But sometimes they are a little bit short-sighted.”

Aside from the low figures at Andrew, the 2016-17 projections have Stagg at 2,314 and Sandburg at 3,121 and Gay hopes to balance that out.

“In formulating my final recommendation, I truly have taken into consideration the overall district needs as well as the thoughts and ideas shared by the community,” Gay said. “I’m grateful for the input as well as the school board’s dedication and support through this open process. I’m confident this meets our students’ needs as well as the response to the community.”