Three years ago, Elgin Area School District U-46 officials made a controversial decision to move the high school bilingual program from the then-crowded Elgin High School to the new Bartlett High School.
Now Bartlett High School is overcrowded.
With 2,800 students, Bartlett is 300 students over its capacity. Contributing to those high numbers is a bilingual program of 400 students – the majority of whom are bused from Elgin.
To take some of the pressure off Bartlett High School, U-46 officials acknowledge moving the bilingual program back to Elgin High School is one of several options being looked at.
“Different ideas have been brought forward. Certainly, that is one of them,” Area Superintendent Lalo Ponce said.
District officials are banking on a new high school and a $ 271 million building plan as the long-term solution to crowding at Bartlett and across the district. Even if voters approve that plan in a March referendum, it could be four to five years before a new high school opens.
In the meantime, district officials say they may have to look at ways to make space at Bartlett, including redrawing boundaries or moving programs such as the bilingual program.
According to current enrollment figures, Elgin High School is 776 below its capacity of 2,800 students.
“On the surface it would make sense, wouldn’t it,” Larry Ascough, director of community relations for U-46, said about moving the bilingual program.
The move of bilingual students would decrease Bartlett’s enrollment and reunite the majority of those students with their home school.
“But then you have to go back to the original reason they made the decision,” Ascough cautioned.
U-46 administrators decided to move the bilingual program from Elgin as part of the boundary plan for the new Bartlett High School.
The district’s primary goal was to racially balance the population of its four high schools. The move increased the Hispanic population at Bartlett High School to 19 percent. Elgin’s Hispanic population remained the highest in the district at 28 percent. Larkin’s was 20 percent and Streamwood’s 15 percent.
Creating a one-race school could have made U-46 vulnerable to civil rights lawsuits, Ascough said.
“(Administrators) were concerned about a school that didn’t have any diversity in it. I’m sure people still have some of those concerns,” he added.
The decision also was a matter of space, Ponce said.
“For the most part there was room there,” he said about Bartlett High School.
Then, Elgin Hispanic parents agreed that it was important to achieve racial balance in the schools, but they didn’t think that it should be accomplished by busing their children to Bartlett.
Since Bartlett High School opened three years ago, some Hispanic parents have chosen not to let their children attend its bilingual program, Ascough said.
“We have parents who opt out. They want their kids to be closer to home,” he said.
Now that Bartlett is over capacity, the district fields calls from parents who suggest they move the bilingual program to reduce enrollment, Ascough said.
“Now it has become a renewed concern because of the overcrowding,” he said.
“I don’t want to say I told you so,” said Sonny Garza, a member of the Elgin Hispanic Network who fought to keep the program at Elgin.
While moving the bilingual program might make some people happy, administrators say, it may not be what is best for the students.
Moving the program could upset the stability U-46 has been striving to create for bilingual students, they said.
“They promised (bilingual students) would have a long-standing home,” Bartlett Principal Rick Hoy said. “I don’t think it is fair to have to up and move them again.”
“We don’t think the students who attend a special program should be moved from year to year,” he said.
Any decision that officials might make to alleviate crowding at Bartlett High School will not come until after March when the district may ask voters in a referendum to approve a $ 271 million building plan. The plan would construct six new elementary schools, a new middle school and high school.
Until then, talking about a temporary solution for Bartlett High School is premature, officials say.
“That is the kind of decision you put on the table when you have all the pieces to play with,” Ascough said.