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DeKalb Schools starts redistricting talks

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DeKALB – The DeKalb School Board started talking about redistricting schools during a special meeting Wednesday that administrators said was the first in many discussions that will be had before any decisions are made.

The board wants to find the best ways to use the district’s facilities, School Board President Mike Verbic said.

A $110 million referendum approved in February 2008 allowed the district to build a new elementary school in Cortland, which opened last month, and work on a new high school in DeKalb is under way. The referendum also provides money to renovate existing buildings.

When the referendum was passed, the board talked about repurposing the old high school into Huntley Middle School and then renovating the old middle school building into Chesebro Elementary. The existing Chesebro would be turned into an early childhood center.

But district officials also stressed that everything is on the table and recommended the board consider a wide range of options for how to best use the space at their disposal. The old high school, for instance, could become a middle school or junior high, serving all district students in either grades 7-8 or grades 6-8.

Or they could look at splitting up the elementary years more, creating four schools for grades K-3 and four buildings for grades 4-6.

All of those are draft ideas, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Kari Cremascoli said, that were put onto paper so the board and administrators could start throwing around ideas.

“I don’t think at this point in time there is any given,” Schools Superintendent Jim Briscoe said. “This is a preliminary discussion.”

Board Secretary Holly Wallace, though, said that the board first needs to discuss what programs the district wants to keep before looking at what grades go to which buildings.

Does the district want to implement full-day kindergarten at all the elementary schools? How and where should special education be taught? Same with English as a Second Language classes. How big should classes be? What will happen to the district’s older buildings? And what will the costs with each of those be?

“We need cost analysis and price tags before we start making these decisions,” she added. “The decisions we make now programmatically will have a much bigger impact than whatever we do with redistricting.”

While a definite timeline to make a final decision was not set, Briscoe said it would be wise to be ready to bid any renovation projects by March 2010.

The board must also keep finances in mind, Briscoe stressed. There likely will be deficits in the coming years due to the economy and the state’s fiscal troubles and he said he would hate the board to say it wants to go one direction only to find out it can’t be done because of the cost.

“We have to weigh everything and try to come to an agreement on what we need, that helps us meet our strategic plan and meets student targets and be financially responsible,” he said.

Verbic noted that the redistricting process will include a number of additional gatherings with input from a variety of people, including teachers, principals, parents and community members.

The board set its next special meetings to discuss redistricting for 6 p.m. Sept. 21 and for 6 p.m. Oct. 7. Administrators will present information requested by Wallace and other board members at the September meeting.

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