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Palos 118 board hears remap plan

The enrollment imbalance between Palos East and West schools is no longer sustainable for Palos School District 118 to give all students equal access to the same quality education without changing the boundary between them next school year, Superintendent Anthony Scarsella told the Palos 118 school board Tuesday.

The kindergarten through 5th grade enrollment at Palos East School in Palos Heights has increased from 674 to 810 students since 2009. During the same period, enrollment at Palos West in Palos Park has declined from 442 students to 365.

That trend will continue relentlessly into the future, according to Scarsella and his administrative team’s enrollment projections, confirmed by an independent professional demographer who looked at all the data given to him by the district and reached the same conclusion.

That’s what Scarsella told scores of parents, teachers and the school board, meeting in the gym of Palos South to accommodate anticipated large crowds that mostly stayed away the night of a Cubs playoffs game.

“If we do nothing we will have 800 students at East and West will have under 400 students” for years to come, Scarsella emphasized.

To reduce crowding at Palos East and boost the student population at West, the administration recommends transferring about 150 students from Palos East to Palos West by shifting the boundary line between their attendance areas from La Grange Road eastward to 86th Avenue.

The proposed new map transfers all areas west of 86th Avenue from 111th to 131st streets in Palos Park to Palos West. The planned boundary shift also transfers to Palos West areas south of 135th Street in Palos Heights and unincorporated Orland Township.

In all, the boundary shift would transfer 72 Palos Hills students, 55 who live in Palos Park and 20 in Palos Heights and Orland south of 135th Street from Palos East to West, Chief School Business Official Justin Veihman said during his turn at the podium.

The proposed remap was shown to all on a projected screen at the school board meeting, but was not yet available on the district’s website as of Wednesday morning.

Parents of students affected by the boundary remap have been notified by both U.S. mail and email of the proposed boundary changes.

The district provided parents at Tuesday’s meeting with copies of an exhaustive list of frequently asked questions and answers about the boundary change. It can be found on the district’s website, Palos118.org. One asks why cannot an addition be built onto Palos East to accommodate the school’s growing population? Answer: There is no more room to add on to Palos East, the FAQ states.

The district aims for the change “to impact as few families as possible, and keeping siblings intact,” Scarsella said. He outlined plans for open houses, “Buddy Day” visits of transfer students at Palos West and other special activities, so “that no transfer student enters Palos West for the first time” when school starts next August.

Parents and families will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed boundary changes at two informational meetings scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Palos East and Wednesday, Nov. 4, at Palos West.

The school board is expected to vote at its meeting on Nov. 17 whether to accept the administration’s recommendation to redraw the boundary.

Between now and then, the district aims for complete transparency and will with parents as partners to make the needed switch to ensure each individual student receives the same quality education in Palos 118, Scarsella indicated.

More details about the proposed boundary change can be found on the Palos 118 District website at palos118.org.

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