Brookfield's Hillside Elementary to close in spring

Parents make one more plea for school

Oct. 26, 2011

Hillside Elementary will be closed at the end of this school year.

Despite a last-ditch effort that included pleas from parents, their Hillside kids, and those who support their position, the Elmbrook School Board on Tuesday voted, 6-1, to shutter the school. The move is part of an effort to close a $8.7 million shortfall projected over the next five fiscal years.

Board member Bob Ziegler, who opposed closing any school before further study or at least before also presenting a full redistricting plan, cast the dissenting vote.

Board views

Before they voted, board members said the decision was based in part on the shortfall and in part on the district's excess capacity.

"The fact is that going to five elementary schools still means that we are at 68 percent capacity (in the elementary schools)," member Glen Allgaier said. "My personal philosophy about this issue is that we need to do what is best for the district.

"We don't always agree on everything on the board, but we try to represent the majority of the community," Allgaier added.

He called Elmbrook a "great" school system.

He said he would have supported closing two schools - Hillside as well as Tonawanda in Elm Grove.

"Capacity should be considered in greater detail," Allgaier added. "Do we go to 70, 80 or 90 percent? We need to figure that out."

Board President Tom Gehl said the overriding reason for the financial situation is the decline in enrollment over the last 10 years. He said the board has tried to address that decline with nonresident enrollment, but it has not been enough.

"Long-term," he said, "it would not be wise to keep excess capacity."

Hillside support

Hillside supporters were as diverse as their comments.

Steve Taipala brought his 7-year-old daughter, Hillside second-grader Ainsley, to the speaker podium. Wearing a Hillside T-shirt, she stood on a chair to reach the microphone.

"If you close Hillside, I will miss my teachers," she said. "I will be real sad."

Her father said, "I know you think you are moving forward, but I don't think we are moving in the right direction."

Mary Wacker, an Elm Grove resident, said her children attended Tonawanda and she told the board they should not close any school.

"Don't let your legacy be a take-away from this community," Wacker said. "I am a taxpayer. Let me know what I can do."

Karen Selkey, a Hillside parent and freelance advertising design professional, offered her help to attract more students to the district.

"I just wanted to offer another idea," she said after the meeting.

On to redistricting

Superintendent Matt Gibson said he is planning to hold informational meetings on redistricting for the remaining schools at 6 and 8 p.m. Nov. 2. The location was to be decided after press deadline. Check BrookfieldNOW.com or ElmGroveNOW.com for updates.

Decision background

Tuesday's vote came after three previous meetings in which Hillside supporters challenged the School Board on almost every point they presented as reasons for the closure.

Public meetings held on Sept. 29 and Oct. 4 brought out hundreds of attendees. A similar-size crowd came to the regularly scheduled Oct. 11 meeting, carving out a three-hour discussion in that evening's agenda.

Another issue protesting parents raised throughout the process is that non-closure initiatives - including selling property, starting 4-year-old kindergarten and incorporating multi-age classrooms - have not seriously been considered by the district.

Superintendent Matt Gibson, as well as several School Board members, have indicated that those measures could not be done soon enough to address the shortfall.

Further complicating the issue is Gibson's retirement at the end of the school year. He has noted he has ample time to participate in redistricting.

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