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“School segregation’s new frontier”

Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

* Daniel Vock in the Illinois Times

New Berlin, a village with 1,500 people separated from the outskirts of Springfield by 12 miles of pale blue skies and sunlit cornstalks, still has many hallmarks of a small town. It hosts the county fair, with chili cookoffs, livestock exhibitions and country music stars drawing crowds during the long days of June. Tractors occasionally join traffic on the main thoroughfare, and freight trains rumble and screech along tracks that travel the length of town. And, of course, the people in New Berlin, like much of rural Illinois, are almost entirely white.

Unlike a lot of rural towns, though, New Berlin is growing, and its schools in particular, with nearly 5 percent annual growth, are booming. Its elementary school attendance has more than doubled since 2003. The growth in the higher grades has been slower, but still some of the highest in the metro area. […]

Students are surging into New Berlin schools, though, not because of the town’s rural charm, but because of its proximity to the suburban sprawl of southwest Springfield. As developers turn farmland into new homes, they are increasingly leaving the boundaries of Springfield’s core school district – District 186 – to do so. Even homes that are within the city limits of Springfield often don’t fall within the school district, because those boundaries aren’t the same. The decade-old, half-million-dollar houses in Springfield’s Centennial Park Place neighborhood, for example, barely fall inside the New Berlin school district.

The same thing is happening on nearly every side of Springfield; city residents, in fact, now go to seven school districts other than District 186. In the Chatham school district, more than a third of students have Springfield addresses.

The whole thing is well-written, so have a read.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

34 Comments
  1. - truthteller - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 9:33 am:

    been going on across america for decades so no big surprise. And zero ways to address the new segregation tactics of white flight. Perhaps revamp into state pensions for teachers where the LOCAL school districts picks up their retiree;s pension cost like the Chicago School District has to?


  2. - Give Me A Break - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 9:53 am:

    As the story indicated, Dist. 186 lines were drawn decades ago. That has meant 186 loses when new housing developments are built, many of which have Springfield addresses.

    And when large stores like Scheels and Merjer are built, that revenue goes to the Chatham school district even though both stores have Springfield addresses.

    Some blame can be placed at the feet of Springfield area realtors who will do all they can to guide families to school districts like Chatham, New Berlin, Rochester and Williamsville.

    Several years ago I was part of a team recruiting a new agency director for a state agency. After the director was hired she told me her and husband hand to on three occasions point blank tell their realtor they wanted to be in the Springfield school district and to stop trying to show them houses in Rochester and Chatham schools. The realtor asked them “are you sure, you really want 186, why?”


  3. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 9:54 am:

    So the next time IPI touts school consolidation, go to New Berlin and tell them Springfield 186 is going to take over their schools. Then sit back and watch the Republican-voting, small government residents freak out. There are several reasons why there are so many units of local government in Illinois. This article touches on one of them.


  4. - Anotheretiree - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:04 am:

    New Berlin isn’t big enough to have a McDonald’s. This is Dollar General country. It is Springfield sprawl that’s growing the school.


  5. - Birdseed - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:07 am:

    Just think of the potential school growth if their nickname wasn’t the “Pretzels”.


  6. - Donnie Elgin - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:08 am:

    Vouchers - let the money follow the student rather than forcing parents to send kids to a school based on arbitrary boundaries. Schools in District 186 would then have a
    real incentive to compete and provide educational excellence, parents can evaluate and select schools based on their kids needs.


  7. - Pick a Name - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:15 am:

    Chatham Glenwood really benefited from the Springfield sprawl.


  8. - L.A. - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:24 am:

    -Chatham Glenwood really benefited from the Springfield sprawl.-

    And so has Rochester


  9. - The Eleventh Hour - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:31 am:

    “…if their nickname wasn’t the “Pretzels”” I’m proud to have lived in not just one, but TWO, Illinois school districts that have the salty snack as their mascot (Freeport and New Berlin).


  10. - Some Anonymous Dude (S.A.D.) - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:44 am:

    Best thing about living in Springfield is being on CWLP and Chatham Schools.


  11. - Outsider - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:44 am:

    Decatur is the same way. Mt. Zion, Maroa-Forsyth, Argenta, etc. all have Decatur addresses with those school districts. When people move to town for places like Cat, they are generally looking not at DPS 61 schools. Then the businesses that pop up around those clusters as well. This isn’t a Springfield only problem.


  12. - Steward As Well.... - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 10:58 am:

    Pleasant Plains also. This have been going on for years with the reputation people feel D186 has and how poorly they believe it is run. Some of that belief is deserved though.If one isn’t interested in the several private schools in town move a very short distance away and still receive everything a town the size of Springfield can provide.


  13. - Anyone Remember - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:05 am:

    Give Me A Break -
    Moved here a decade after the Consent Decree. Have heard from those here at the time, and once read in the SJR (Copley era - apparently they took the keys to the archives) that state law used to mandate that annexation into Springfield also required annexation into 186. The powers that be quietly got that law repealed after the Consent Decree, grievously wounding 186, ensuring this outcome.


  14. - Almost the weekend - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:08 am:

    In Springfield the wealthy and politically connected find a loop hole or get what they want. The rest fight over the bread crumbs. Springfield will never be able to grow unless they revamp their public school system which is key to to attracting young families.


  15. - Good school - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:28 am:

    Springfield ought to consider improving their schools.


  16. - Frustrated - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:31 am:

    There is a difference between forced segregation and what this article describes and then labels “segregation”. There’s nothing forced about the current system, so I have a hard time following that premise. The article points out the fact that Iles, Lincoln Magnet, and Franklin were designed as programs and schools to keep White families in the district. As someone who graduated from one of those schools and happens to be Black, I not only disagree with the premise of the argument, I would be highly dissatisfied if the District adopts what the union head hints that it should…to return those students to their neighborhood schools. THAT would be forced segregation. One thought around creating more diverse schools could be to consolidate some of the many under-enrolled elementary schools, and to consolidate the 3 district high schools into 2 high schools. This would create a larger pool of families who would be assigned to the school through district boundaries, in most cases increasing school diversity.


  17. - Pick a Name - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:33 am:

    Springfield needs to build 2 new schools and consolidate the students in the current 3 schools. Any people moving to the area who have kids would likely opt for Rochester, Williamsville, Chatham,etc.


  18. - Give Me A Break - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:44 am:

    “Springfield ought to consider improving their schools.”

    I have had all three of our children graduate from Springfield 186, all went to college and have successful lives.

    When our daughter graduated from SHS her class was sending over 80% of the kids to college or the military. Not sure what your gripe is but you clearly are part of the issue facing 186.


  19. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:51 am:

    District 186, or more precisely the schools and students have a lot going for them, but the district (like much of Springfield) does a terrible PR/Marketing job.


  20. - Fav human - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 11:56 am:

    1) who is going to want their kid to travel longer than needed to get to school? That’s the real problem with combining districts.

    2) fewer and fewer white kids as percentage in the future. Might as well accept that..


  21. - anon - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    The fact that school districts and municipalities do not overlap occurs throughout the state, not just in Springfield and not just in areas with a diverse population. Even in those areas, like the western suburbs, developers focused built in areas that fed to schools with better reputations.


  22. - IHeart186 - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    I am a white, affluent parent of kids attending 186 schools. Dubois Elementary (featured in the story) is our home school and is a gem. Mr. Hartman is AMAZING but is not the only standout teacher our kids have been lucky enough to have at this school. The point about outside ratings not really capturing the whole story is spot on. I really don’t care how many stars an outsider would give Dubois. I know what Dubois has done for my children. I have had 4 kids attend that school over the past decade and our experience has been top notch. The vast majority of the criticisms about 186 schools come from those who have never utilized them.


  23. - Benjamin - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:16 pm:

    I’ll just note that in most southern states, school district boundaries are county-wide. This helps avoid the situation of poorly funded schools for the poorer towns and well-funded ones in wealthy enclaves.


  24. - Anon - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:16 pm:

    - Fav human

    To me at least, the benefit of school consolidation is to reduce bloated administration. Particularly so, where you have elementary school only districts. I’m not certain how many schools (even in more rural areas) would actually be closed.


  25. - Merica - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:30 pm:

    The test scores are published online (See Niche K-12). The bottom line is that none of the schools, New Berlin, Rochester, 186, Chatham, Williamsville, PP, Athens, none of them are “good.” They’ve all tested just at or below the statewide average for many years, with the exception of PP (one year being last year, and only by a hair). it is common in sangamon county that only 40% of students are proficient in math and reading skills.

    The best schools in this State (public and private) are in chicago and the surrounding suburbs followed by Bloomington and Normal. Everything else has a dramatic drop-off into mediocrity.

    i think two factors drive the Sangamon County suburb sprawl: (1) racism and the desire to keep white kids away from black kids, and (2) housing: houses in sangamon county are depreciating (not appreciating) so people don’t update them. if you want to have a house with newer features you have to buy a newer house. newer houses are generally found in the outlying areas. People pay a huge premium for a new house, and the poor people who buy new houses, then (for whatever reason) move, take a huge loss when they sell, almost
    as bad as driving a new car off the lot.

    hopefully over time attitudes will shift and we can create a community that is more cohesive and uses resources more efficiently.


  26. - DIstant watcher - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:42 pm:

    “the whole thing is well written…”

    You already said Dan Vock wrote it; ’nuff said.


  27. - Wading in... - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:57 pm:

    I graduated from a District 186 high school that has historically been known for cranking out good basketball teams and not much else. So did my two children. We are all college graduates, gainfully employed and doing well. My family physician graduated from this same high school a couple years ahead of me. Sure, there’s room for improvement at 186 schools, but parental involvement, good rapport with teachers and administrators, student accountability, etc., can accomplish similar results without the higher house payments and tax bills the outliers have.


  28. - FFS - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    If by “new” they mean something that’s been happening for more than half a century, sure. The school districts around Springfield have been expanding enrollment with new subdivisions, in what used to be cornfields outside of Springfield and we’re annexed, for decades.

    And it’s by no means unique to Springfield. All those suburban public schools around Chicago didn’t explode in numbers because of new industry in Naperville or Plainfield.


  29. - Anyone Remember - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 1:19 pm:

    Michelle Flaherty
    Not only bad at PR, never seen a public body so scared of being sued / federal court. Mention either and 186’s administration / board members recoil like a nocturnal animal seeing the sun.


  30. - R A T - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 3:56 pm:

    If Springfield did the road construction they promised 20 years ago and fixed those dangerous roads that lead to places like Centennial, New Berlin school would double in a few years.


  31. - Laps Done - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 4:09 pm:

    Dunlap(just north of Peoria) is a very similar case, and has had a longer history of growth than New Berlin.


  32. - Dan Vock - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 4:46 pm:

    Thanks, DIstant watcher!

    Also, Laps Done, I wrote about Dunlap with my Governing colleagues earlier this year… https://www.governing.com/topics/education/gov-segregation-schools.html

    Thanks all for a good conversation. I hope it keeps going IRL as well as online.


  33. - MyTwoCents - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 5:24 pm:

    Michelle Flaherty @ 9:54 and Benjamin are both onto something. Purpose having Sangamon County become 1 school district (which would probably result in shorter trips to school for most the New Berlin kids living in Springfield) and watch the GOP types completely flip out, even if the proposal would mainly consolidate administrative functions and keep a lot of the schools open, just re-distribute where kids went.


  34. - Ross Brown - Thursday, Oct 17, 19 @ 9:47 pm:

    The Dunlap school district northwest of Peoria is another example of this.


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