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Kindergarten enrollment caps not ruled out

Parents of prospective kindergarten students in Evanston may want to rush to sign up their youngsters when registration opens next Tuesday, after the District 65 school board last night failed to resolve how to handle an expected upsurge in new students.

Residents crowd the school board meeting.

One option the board held open is freezing kids who register late out of their neighborhood school if it has reached its kindergarten enrollment limit. The youngsters would be offered slots at the district’s two magnet schools or other, less crowded, neighborhood schools instead.

"We’ve seen this train coming at us for a long time, we know all too well what it means," board president Keith Terry said.

Faced with more students than classrooms, board members debated different scenarios ranging from enrollment caps to building a new 5th Ward school — which would require holding a tax hike referendum during strained financial times.

"I think that before we talk about that we need to look at the financial implications for building a new school," trustee Bonnie Lockhart said; "I don’t think a new school is something we have as a reality."

Other prospects include increasing class sizes by up to an additional three students.

A report presented to the board says the schools most likely to be affected by enrollment growth this fall include Dewey, Lincolnwood and Willard.

With a short-term solution needed to address new student enrollment this fall, officials decided that registrations will be date and time stamped this year, so that, if an enrollment cap is imposed, seats could be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

New students moving to Evanston neighborhoods with the most popular schools in the summer months would be most affected by an enrollment cap, and would likely have to attend schools outside their neighborhood.

Board members expressed frustration over not being able to give new residents and real estate agents straight answers — that living in a certain neighborhood might no longer be a guarantee of attending the neighborhood’s school.

As one Willard parent asked, "What do you tell people moving to Evanston– that you don’t know where their children are going to school?"

Debate continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning. With an audience that had dwindled from over 150 to 30 and a board minus trustees Andrew Pigozzi and Kim Weaver — who left earlier in the evening — no decision was made.

"Where is the solution that everyone loves? There isn’t one," Superintendent Dr. Hardy Murphy said.

The board is scheduled to continue the debate at its next meeting at 7 p.m. on March 2.

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