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Emotions Run High At First Racine Unified Redistricting Meeting

Superintendent Ann Laing got an earful from parents upset that students at Goodland Elementary could be moved to other schools in the district as part of $2.5 million cost-saving plan.

Emotions Run High At First Racine Unified Redistricting Meeting

Jeff Green said his son, a special needs third grader at Goodland Elementary, is reading and on the honor role after not getting the services and attention he needed at six previous schools.

"I'm asking you, after we finally found teachers and a program that works, how many more schools will we have to try before we find this again?" he asked, his voice choked with emotion. "The programs work here and we've just been through this too much."

Green was part of crowd of about 70 who gathered in the library at Goodland on Tues., Feb. 17, to listen to a presentation by Racine Unified Superintendent Ann Laing and other Unified staff members about proposed school closings and redistricting. The moves could save $2.5 million of a $6.5 million budget deficit for the 2012-2013 school year.

Under the plan, approximately 204 Goodland students will move to West Ridge where three classrooms are available for the growing student body. The rest will be dispersed to other buildings, quite possibly their neighborhood school. At West Ridge, class sizes will grow from an average of 22 students per classroom to 28 for Kindergarten through second grade and to 30 students for third through fifth grade.

"I wish we could keep the numbers at 22, but we no longer have that luxury," Laing said. "We can't afford it."

The plan also calls for moving a handful of early childhood education students to Goodland from other buildings like Red Apple Elementary and the Early Education Center and expanding the charter program there to eliminate or reduce the waiting list.

During the Q&A, parents spoke up one after another about how angry they are with the district's plan and the lack of communication with parents.

Sharon Crayton said she found out about the redistricting plan and meeting two weeks ago. She told Laing parents aren't the only people upset.

"Children thrive on routine and now you're talking about new buildings, new teachers, new kids," she said."I didn't find out about this until two weeks ago so I want to know exactly how long you've been talking about this."

But Laing pointed to several stories that have appeared in the media since last fall, that Board of Education minutes are available online and that notes may have gone home with students to give to parents.

More than one parent also spoke up about whether or not children with special needs will still get the necesary services and attention and whether or not their kids can still attend West Ridge through in-district school choice or sibling preference.

Racine Unified's Jeff Weiss explained that like Goodland, West Ridge is a Title I school so Title I funding will follow the students to their new school.

"That money goes for teachers, technology, supplies, a lot of different things," he said.

Laing did acknowledge that with larger in-district enrollment, there will be fewer choice seats available for the parents who elect to send their students and any younger children in the same family to West Ridge. This did not sit well with Angela Novine.

"If you eliminate parents from using choice, you're really going to push more families into vouchers," she said. "That won't help."

Jeff Longsine said despite what test scores may show, he feels like his kids are getting a great education at Goodland. He advised parents to contact elected officials at the local and state level about voting for the reductions in state aid.

"Don't forget to vent on the elected officials who put in for deep cuts to the neediest district," he said. "There is no accountability with voucher schools and we need to hold our elected officials accountable."

Laing answered several inquiries about how parents could really have their voices heard about the redistricting plan, saying there were two board members present.

"There are no final decisions and the board members who are here are listening," she said. "I would encourage you to call or email them."

Goodland Elementary parent Gary Mandli understands budgeting. He also thinks kids are resiliant and, for the most part, can get used to a change if Racine Unified closes Goodland or repurposes it for early childhood education. But he also knows the students, parents, teachers and staff of the school are a family, and he gets emotional when he thinks about everyone splitting up. His third, and youngest, child is in fourth grade at Goodland.

"My son has some special needs, and the teachers here," he said, pausing to choke back tears. "The teachers here did an incredible job. We've made great relationships with just everyone here with all three of our kids."

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