NEW LENOX — Lincoln-Way High School District 210 board members decided Thursday night in a 5-2 vote to close North High School in an effort to reduce budget deficits that landed the school district with the lowest possible financial rating by state education standards.
Board President Kevin Molloy and board members Arvid Johnson, Christopher Kosel, Ronald Lullo and Christopher McFadden voted in favor of closing North, which opened in 2008. Board Vice President Dee Molinare and member Christine Glatz voted against it.
The school will remain open for the 2015-16 academic year, and close for the 2016-17 school year.
“It’s crazy to me,” McFadden said before the vote, his voice cracking. “North [high school] is almost brand new and we’re going to have to close it. It breaks my heart.”
Before the decision, board members decided not to close Central in a 5-2 vote, with Molinare and Glatz as the dissenting votes.
The decline in state aid for schools loomed over the board members’ conversations about which school to close, as well as the potential for closing another school down the line if the situation didn’t improve.
All the board members said they wanted to fight to keep three schools open, but some, such as Johnson and McFadden, said district officials need to be more realistic about what may happen with state funding in the future.
McFadden said North should close because of potential state legislation such as property tax freezes.
He also argued closing Central would treat students from three middle — or feeder — schools like “Ping-Pong balls” while closing North would only have that effect on two middle schools.
Glatz was against the decision because she wanted the board to find ways to keep open the newer state-of-the art buildings, North and West. Molinare insisted that the board make a financial decision not based on emotion, and she was not in favor of closing the newer buildings that had the lowest operational costs.
Before the school closure vote, the board voted on whether they would keep the junior high feeder schools together or draw boundary lines that would split them apart. Some members advocated keeping them together so curriculum would be aligned between schools, and students would not suffer socially. They decided to keep the feeder schools together; Molinare was the only dissenting vote.
After considering several ways to reduce annual budget deficits ranging between roughly $5 million to $7 million since 2011, Lincoln-Way board members decided on closing a school. The school district — covering New Lenox, Frankfort, Mokena, Manhattan and Tinley Park — was required by state education officials to put together a deficit reduction plan by September.
District officials said a housing market crippled by the recession, low state funding and lower-than-projected enrollment numbers led to its financial crisis.
Closing a school was seen by the district administration as the quickest way to reduce the deficit compared to a tax increase referendum or curriculum cuts, saving about $5.4 million annually.
In late July, Supt. Scott Tingley said the data for the deficit reduction plan had already been vetted and school officials were ready to submit it. But they needed to decide on which school they planned to close to give personnel notification of a reduction in force or nonrenewals of contracts sooner.
Following the passage of a 2006 referendum, Lincoln-Way constructed North and West buildings in 2008 and 2009, respectively, to meet anticipated student growth. But projected enrollment was already not matching reality as early as 2006, and all four high schools are under capacity.
During public comments, Jay Curatolo, whose sons attend North, urged board members to close Central and spare North. He said the option is confirmed by solid data. He said the community had been “gravely fractured” throughout the process of considering a school closure.
“My prayer is that you will break from the mistakes of the past,” he said.