Originally Posted Online: May 13, 2013, 10:50 pm
Last Updated: May 14, 2013, 12:11 am

Moline school board votes to close Ericsson, Garfield

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By Nicole Lauer, nicolellauer@gmail.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Protestors gathered outside a school board meeting at Wilson Middle School , Monday, May 13, 2013, after the board voted 5-2 in favor of moving forward with a plan that would close Ericsson and Garfield schools and expand Hamilton over the next few years.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Moline school board member Ben McAdams gets applause from the audience after voicing his concerns about a district plan that would close Ericsson and Garfield schools and expand Hamilton over the next few years. Although Mr. McAdams and Bob Tallitsch voted against the plan, the board approved it 5-2, Monday, May 13, 2013, at a meeting at Wilson Middle School.

MOLINE -- Despite protests and arguments, Moline school superintendent David Moyer said the school board's 5-2 vote Monday night to close Ericsson and Garfield schools and expand Hamilton is a new dawn for the district.

"I think that, starting tomorrow morning, we can look at the next 50 years in Moline, not the last 80 years," he said.

More than 140 people attended the meeting at Wilson Middle School to hear the board's decision on the proposed operational plan designed to save the district $3.2 million. The facilities plan to close the two schools and expand Hamilton is expected to save $350,000 and narrow the achievement gap for all students.

Before the vote, hundreds of community members attended input sessions to air concerns. Ericsson supporters were a large presence at the sessions, arriving with signs and saying the school's closure would hurt the families of the close-knit neighborhood.

On Monday, board members heard strong words against the plan from two of their own: members Ben McAdams and Bob Tallitsch.

Mr. Tallitsch said community members are not the only ones left without answers and questioning the district's timing.

"There's simply so many unknowns," he said. "We're being told we have to vote yes, we have to hire a contractor, and then these things will be answered. I think that's totally backwards."

Mr. Tallitsch argued the district should consider expanding Ericsson school. The school in a transition neighborhood where people move into the country and learn the language and the educational system. Research in favor of larger schools versus neighborhood schools is a wash, he said, but literature on closing ethnic or low socio-economic status schools is uniformly negative regarding the effect on parents and students.

Mr. McAdams spoke at length before the board's vote, citing specific concerns with all three schools in the facilities plan. He said he approached facilities director Darryl Snyder with specific transportation questions, including whether the city could pay to construct a bike path for safe travel to Hamilton school. He said Mr. Snyder had not met with the city.

Ultimately, decisions are being made too quickly, he said.

"I fully believe the closures will not improve the district," Mr. McAdams said.

He also read a letter from state Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, urging the board to reconsider the plans and "discuss other solutions."

Monday's meeting included public comment from several people from outside of the district vehemently opposed to the plan. Speakers included individuals with ties to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Augustana College and Western Illinois University.

Maria Mier Llaca, of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber, said the fight against the school closures is not over. She expects the Hispanic chamber, the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens will seek legal action through their attorneys.

Ms. Llaca said, among the injustices of district's process, attendees should have been provided with certified translators to assist them through the process.

Marina Varela, a resident of the Floreciente neighborhood, said she was disappointed by the board's action and the lack of information that remains.

"We have to wait until after they start destroying our schools," she said. "I think we deserve more."

Just after Ms. Varela made her comments, she and a large group of Ericsson supporters were told they had to move to the public sidewalk near the road. Supporters lined the road, holding 'Save our school' signs and chanting, "Ericsson! Ericsson!"