U46 officials: No discussion about segregation in ’04 border changes
By Emily McFarlan email@example.com June 12, 2012 8:36PM
Updated: July 14, 2012 6:37AM
CHICAGO — It was “the smoothest opening of the school year in every way,” according to Jim Feuerborn, then-assistant superintendent of management services in School District U46.
The buses had picked up and dropped off students on time, Feuerborn said. The books and lunches all were where they needed to be.
And that came at the start of the 2004-05 school year, as major boundary changes took effect in the Elgin school district and it recovered from a financial crisis discovered in summer 2002.
Feuerborn, who has been a consultant to the district since retiring in 2005, and several former U46 administrators testified Tuesday about the circumstances around those boundary changes in the racial discrimination trial against the state’s second-largest school district.
That lawsuit alleges U46 discriminated against black and Hispanic students in its 2004 school boundary plan by placing them in overcrowded schools. It also alleges the district did not offer students who were black and Hispanic access to its gifted and academy programs or appropriate help to English Language Learner (ELL) students.
The two-year boundary change process was “very public” and did not include discussions about segregation or isolating students, according to John Prince, former chief financial officer and chief operating officer of U46.
Prince described the budget crisis the district faced when he took that position in 2003 — so severe, he left his previous position early. It had discovered a “significant deficit” in its budget, he said: more than $40 million, or about 10 percent of its operating budget.
That delayed the opening of Lincoln, Hilltop and Timber Trails elementary schools by a year, Feuerborn said.
Those are three of six schools constructed by the end of 2005 with money from a March 2000 bond referendum to keep up with the district’s growth — more than 1,000 students a year at the time, he said. That money also was spent on improvements to and additions to other U46 schools.
And it wasn’t the last of Prince’s concerns about the district’s finances, he testified to U46 attorney Michael Hernandez of Franczek Radolet.
He had issues with several “spending patterns” in the district’s ELL department, under then-Director of Bilingual Education Dionnes Rivera.
The department prepaid Aurora University, where its ELL teachers earned certificates and received additional instruction. And in several instances, those teachers dropped out of the university or left the school district, he said.
Rivera, who has testified that then-Superintendent Connie Neale directed her to exit all ELL students after three years in the program, also managed an “off-books” bank account, he said.
Last month at the trial, U46 Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Carmen Rodriguez also had described “professional differences” with Rivera.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Stewart Weltman said that “off-books” account was not “financial fraud” but had been established by a bilingual parents council.
And Weltman questioned both Prince and former interim Superintendent Mary Jane Broncato whether they were concerned the ELL database system was not properly functioning at that time. Weltman pointed to a memo that said the TetraData database showed 322 sixth-graders in ELL at the same time office records showed 383.
Prince said a functioning database is important to staff a program and admitted TetraData did not function at several points during the year the district transitioned to the database system. But, he said, the district had several backup systems .
The bench trial, which has been off and on since March 2011, is being heard by Judge Robert Gettleman in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
It will continue Wednesday, then is set to wrap up after two more dates in August.
The lawsuit originally was filed by nine Hispanic students and their parents in February 2005.