File Photo - First Day of School

Cooper Settles sits in an egg chair while listening to instructions in Liz Harding’s third grade class at Johns Hill School on Aug. 16, the first day of school. 

JIM BOWLING PHOTOS, HERALD & REVIEW

DECATUR – Enrollment is down slightly in Decatur's public schools.

Total enrollment as of the 10th day of attendance is 9,001, said Lawrence Trimble, director of student services, in his report to the school board at its Tuesday meeting. Last year, the number was 9,115.

When students register and don't turn up for classes by the 10th day, school administrators make every effort to contact the family with home visits, calls and letters, but if none of those attempts are successful, students are removed from the rolls.

Trimble said the district welcomed fewer kindergarten students this year than it had expected.

He said he was pleased to report that no classes had more students than the cap of 24 students in grades kindergarten to second, and 27 students in grades 3 to 6. That is thanks to the pod system, which groups elementary buildings geographically. When one building is overcrowded, students are assigned to another building within the pod.

Trimble said his office made 230 moves this year in assigning children to other buildings: 142 of those within pods; 64 moves in magnet schools; and 22 middle school students from Dennis School, which serves prekindergarten through eighth grade, to Stephen Decatur and Thomas Jefferson middle schools.

There were also 79 requests since July from families to be moved from their home building to another building for various reasons.

“I'm concerned about the number of transfer requests,” said board member Sherri Perkins, noting that Trimble had said there were only 61 requests all of last year.

Trimble said he also was concerned by that. Many of the requests are due to personality conflicts within buildings, such as a bullying situation. Not all are approved, but in one case he cited, the family had lived within the Oak Grove School boundary, and had to move so the mother could care for her own ailing mother. An aunt, who cares for the child before and after school, still lives in the Oak Grove boundary and that request was approved.

In other business, the board had planned to consider life/health/safety amendments to address the aging of the Durfee and Johns Hill Magnet schools, the two oldest buildings in the district. Two previous applications to the Illinois State Board of Education and the Regional Office of Education were denied.

Sam Johnson of BLDD Architects explained to the board that building replacement requests are fairly rare and he's only overseen six of them in 31 years of working as an architect. The process requires that a district show that renovation is more expensive than replacement, which is the case with both buildings. However, in the last application round, BLDD was using a means cost estimate guide from 2015. They have updated to a 2017 version, and re-worked the paperwork, and the state board sent representatives who have toured the buildings to see their conditions in person.

Board President Dan Oakes said that he suggested holding off on submitting the new application until the four new board members can be a part of considering a new plan for the two buildings. The previous recommendation was to combine both schools into one new building and raze the two buildings. During the school spotlight portion of the meeting, Durfee Principal Dianne Brandt had said that without knowing the school's future, it's difficult to plan.

“We just heard from a school that wants to know its future, and I'd like to give them an answer,” Oakes said.

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Staff Writer

Education and family reporter for the Herald & Review.

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