Meetings held to determine fate of Rich Township high schools

MATTESON, Ill. (WLS) -- Two community meetings are being held Tuesday to determine the future of three aging south suburban high schools.

Rich Central High School in Olympia Fields, Rich South High School in Richton Park and Rich East High School in Park Forest form High School District 227, which has seen a 26 percent decline in enrollment over the last decade. Parents, residents and the school board all agree that change is needed, but are now tasked with deciding the best way to move forward.

"Our money comes from the state based on our enrollment," said District 227 School Board President Randy Alexander. "If the enrollment continues to go down it means what we have coming in is going to continue to go down."

In an effort to consolidate expenses, the district has put forth six options for the community and the school board to review with price tags ranging from about $105 to $400 million. They include everything from repairing the existing high schools without making any upgrades to demolishing all three facilities and building a single new school. The cheapest - but most controversial choice - puts forth the idea of purchasing the now shuttered Lincoln-Way North building in Frankfort.

"I saw a lot of property tax increase, however one option I may have been in favor of was probably consolidating all the schools - not moving into Lincoln-Way which is in Will County - and just let all of the students have a level playing field of academics," said Khalia Hollis, a 16-year-old student who attends a private school in Chicago.

But Park Forest Mayor Jonathan Vanderbilt, where Rich East is located, thinks there are more cost-efficient, less property-tax reliant options that might be taken into account.

"We can either get smaller like they're presenting to us or we can get larger and start looking at other districts and becoming a K-12 and really providing the career pathways for our kids," Vanderbilt said.

The school board will ultimately determine the path forward, but voters may have the final say depending on the price tag of that choice. The decision will be made by the end of next school year.
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