Last year, for the first time in decades, East Chicagoans were able to vote for their representatives on the School Board. In the November election, voters rejected two of the three members of that School Board -- members appointed by the current mayor.
The newly elected board members then asked that the appointed board members refrain from actions that would be detrimental to the incoming board. That plea was ignored. The lame-duck board voted in December 2012 to sell Field Elementary School -- a $12.9 million asset -- for $1.
That move hampered the current board, elected by the voters, from discharging our duties in a fiscally responsible manner. In the process, the children of East Chicago were disadvantaged by the political system, yet again. We should not let North Harbor be redeveloped on the backs of our young children.
Selling Field Elementary School at a multi-million dollar loss hurt our cash-strapped school district, and it made no sense when we had overcrowded schools. To undo that damage, the current School Board voted last month to rescind the improper action of the previous appointed board.
It has been proven that elementary schools attract younger families to a community and that retail follows rooftops. As more families move into East Chicago under the mayor’s North Harbor Redevelopment Plan, we will need Field Elementary School to educate the young children of those families. Without Field School, property owners will be forced to pay for the building of yet another elementary school.
Anyone with knowledge of higher education should know that three four-year colleges are within a 20-minute drive from East Chicago and that Ivy Tech is in the heart of our city. They should also know we don’t need another college in our city. Because elementary schools provide a sense of direction for the redevelopment of a community, we need Field School. For our community to move forward, we must have that building to educate the young children of that neighborhood.
Like Mayor Anthony Copeland, I was a long-time supporter of an elected School Board. We both felt an elected board would be more responsive to the community. I still believe that. I hope he still does, too.
That being said, the elected board is being responsive to the community that wants Field Elementary back in the hands of the school district where it can function as it was originally intended -- as a beacon of hope for the children of our city. We need the city to be responsibly responsive as well.
Citizens know full well that the school district is in the business of education, not the city of East Chicago. For a better quality of life and for the redevelopment of our city, the school district needs Field Elementary School back. It’s the right thing to do not only because it is an educational asset that East Chicago taxpayers have already paid for, but also because it was built with only one purpose in mind -- to house and teach our city’s most valuable asset, our young children.
The duly elected board has been in office for about 100 days. I urge East Chicago voters to contact the school district (391-4100) and the mayor’s office (391-8200) to voice support for the city returning the Eugene Field Elementary School property back where it belongs -- in the hands of public education for our young children’s future.