Gay says keep Palos-Orland Sandburg option

By Jeff Vorva

Palos Park and Orland Park residents in the High School District 230 Option Zone should be happy tonight.

Some Orland Park residents with children attending Central Middle School in Tinley Park, however, are still crossing their fingers.

Superintendent James Gay will recommend no change for the District 118 Option Zone at tonight’s board of education meeting at Andrew High School. It starts at 7 p.m., according to a memo in the district’s agenda, which was released late Tuesday afternoon.

“ These students will continue to be assigned to Stagg and will have the choice to attend Sandburg,” the memo states. “Due to the unique circumstance that only exists for homes immediately surrounding Sandburg High School, Dr. Gay believes that maintaining the Option Zone is appropriate. Most importantly, the district can achieve its overall goal of balancing enrollments to keep quality curricular and co-curricular programs at all three schools without making a change to the Option Zone.”

The memo also said that Gay’s recommendation for District 146 students to attend Andrew High School instead of Sandburg beginning in 2016-17 will be presented although he will add a grandfather clause for siblings who attended Sandburg to allow them to choose.

“ Transportation to Sandburg will be provided through the 2018-19 school year (when current 6th graders graduate high school),” the memo said. “Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, District 146 families who choose to attend Sandburg will need to provide their own transportation.”

“ In formulating my final recommendations, I have taken into consideration the overall district needs as well as the thoughts and ideas shared by our community,” Gay wrote in a memo to the school board. “I am grateful for their input as well as the school board’s dedication and support throughout this process. Through this open process I am confident we have come to a proposal that meets our students’ needs and is responsive to the community.”

When Gay made his original recommendations in August, the public outcry was loud and the district held a special meeting on Sept. 18 that had to be moved from its Administration Center to the Center School gym next door and approximately 500 people showed up. Many of the residents of the Palos Park/Orland Park region affected by the Sandburg and Stagg changes showed solidarity by wearing yellow and holding up signs that said “Keep the Option.”

Khaled Dajani, of Orland Park, presented a petition to the board with 875 signatures of people opposed to the elimination of the zone around Sandburg.

Kent Oliven, a Palos Park village commissioner, who lives in the option zone district said he had a 20-minute meeting with Gay last Friday.

“The people in my neighborhood were getting antsy,” Oliven said. “I spoke with him and I thanked him for meeting with him. I got a chance to articulate what the group is thinking. He was very good at listening.”

Superintendent Gay created these proposals in August because projections showed that Andrew was in jeopardy of dropping from 2,224 students this year to 1,807 in 2016-17. Gay is also concerned about the disparity in enrollment at the three schools. Sandburg has 3,520 students this year and is projected to have 3,121 in 2016-17. Stagg has 2,421 this year and is projected to have 2,314 in 2016-17. Gay said that Andrew’s totals dip that low, some classes, and possibly some extracurricular activities and sports, could be cut.

Public arguments against the changes included bringing property values down in some areas and that it’s unfair for students living minutes away from Sandburg to have to attend Stagg, which is nearly five miles away and some have argued would take 45 minutes round trip.