Voters approved two referendums Tuesday that could change the future of the Delavan-Darien School District.
On one hand, the district’s $2.8 million nonrecurring referendum easily passed, paving the way for the district to hire about 18 more teachers and explore options to grow its shrinking student body.
On the other hand, village of Darien residents approved—65 percent to 36 percent—an advisory referendum to establish a committee that will examine how to detach from the school district. The panel also will look at options to resurrect Darien Elementary, which the Delavan-Darien School Board closed after the 2017-18 school year.
The referendums’ passage has produced two competing forces.
School district officials say the referendum proves the community is willing to support the district, and officials are doubling down on efforts to recruit more students. That includes researching a tuition-based day care program that, if it comes to fruition, could expand its student population and shift classes to other buildings, Darien Elementary included.
The tuition-based program would allow parents to enroll their children—from birth to age 3—in an educational day care. Interim Superintendent Jill Sorbie said the program would capture more students early and offer a much-needed educational experience for poor students.
It also could help curtail falling enrollment.
This year, about 80 students in 4K and 5K open-enrolled out the district before classes started, and over five years, the district has seen about a 16 percent drop in enrollment. Sorbie said the day care program could serve as a springboard to expand 4K and 5K classes.
The program could be offered at Wileman Elementary School, the district’s 4K and 5K campus, she said. That way, the district could shuffle its current organizational plan and possibly move students to Turtle Creek Elementary and Darien Elementary.
But the program is preliminary. Sorbie said the board has not approved it, and the likelihood of reopening Darien Elementary in the near future is unknown.
Meanwhile, Darien Village President Kurt Zipp is assembling a committee to delve into other options for educating students.
Zipp said the village isn’t posturing.
“This is real. We as a community want to have an educational opportunity in our village,” he said. “We’re not sure if that means we take our school and make it a school choice, make it a charter school. ... Our village is going to get an educational footprint in our village one way or another. We would prefer to stay in the school district, but the school district has to be committed.”
Zipp said the committee likely will meet after Thanksgiving and could have five resident members.
He said he would prefer not to join because the committee must operate autonomously from the village, though board members aren’t prohibited from participating as residents.
Zipp said the panel will research all possibilities and bring a proposal to voters in a future referendum. The state Department of Public Instruction requires that a petition to reorganize a school district be submitted before July 1 of any school year.
A referendum likely won’t happen until more than a year after that. But many steps would have to be taken, including boundary agreements with the school board and possibly the state, before a referendum is held.
Sorbie said it’s her intention to reopen Darien Elementary “before that referendum gets passed. ... My intention is to bring it back for them, but they have to have some faith and trust in me.”