continued "We had never heard of any complaints or accidents," he says. Nonetheless, the kindergarten kids began to play on the main playground. Several weeks later, Magers, who lives across the street from the school, saw surveyors measuring the now-empty kindergarten playground site and discovered that the district intended to place a bungalow there. With two weeks to mobilize the community, Magers gathered 500 signatures on a petition against the bungalow idea and appeared at the school board meeting with 35 parents and picket signs. His efforts were too late. The school district, citing the urgent need for classroom space and the absence of any other options, won approval for the measure. Two weeks later the kindergarten playground disappeared.
With that defeat fresh in their minds, community representatives scrambled to come up with a bungalow-financing alternative. Meanwhile, the school district was winning parents over to the bungalows-in-the-park idea by juxtaposing that action with others, such as multitrack scheduling and busing, which parents considered worse. It was the threat of busing that supplied the answer to the financing dilemma.
The school district spends $750 a year to bus a child out of the Normal Heights neighborhood. Community representatives convinced Ottinger that the $750 per student could be used to finance other options: use that money to pay for a construction loan to build ten permanent classroom facilities on the church land. Those ten classrooms could house a total of 200 students, generating $150,000 of cash flow each year. If the school district leased the classrooms for seven years, the project broke even. After the school district vacated the classrooms, the church could use the facilities or rent them out for community events.
The school district resisted the revived community plan and the Ottinger-sanctioned financing. They said leasing permanent facilities in the neighborhood would delay construction of the new area school promised by the school board. The community went ballistic. A coalition of residents, parents, and business owners met with Ottinger in October and told him they would mount a recall effort if planning for the new school was suspended or "one blade of grass was plowed under in Normal Heights."
By November of 1997, school district officials had retracted their statements about a possible delay in the construction of the new area school and spoke of working "for the good of the children." Ron Ottinger characterized the community's proposal as "an unprecedented opportunity to find a solution to school overcrowding throughout Mid-City." At their November meeting, the school board gave unanimous approval to proceed with the community's plan.
It's quiet now on School Street, but undercurrents ripple through the neighborhood. The school district's statement suggested that "all parties must cooperate to a very high degree" for the plan to succeed. But cooperation may be difficult to achieve. The church has established two committees to study the issue, and a vote is expected in mid-February.