Batavia to Join Aurora STEM School?

Update:  On February 24, the Aurora STEM school partnership was approved 4-2, with Hodge and Gaspar voting against it.

The Batavia school board is considering becoming a partner in the Aurora STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) school. 50 students in grades 3-8 would be sent there, selected by lottery from students who meet their criteria that they have not made public. They would spend their elementary and middle school years there, then go back to Batavia High School in 9th grade. In addition to the students, BPS101 would send 2 teachers for 2-4 years each. We would continue to pay their salaries, with yearly increases, while they earn credits toward advanced degrees so they would get paid even more when they return to Batavia (or go elsewhere now that they have better credentials). Batavia taxpayers would pay for the teachers they send, transportation to and from the Aurora school, plus tuition for the students.

Then what happens to the void in Batavia left by the 2 teachers? Unless enough students are pulled from the same grade to allow the combining of classrooms, those 2 teachers would have to be replaced. Remember that those 50 students are pulled from 6 grade levels and 7 schools, making combining classes unlikely. 2 more salaries plus benefits would need to be provided. The average teacher salary in 2014 was nearly $74,000, the highest in the area (over $10,000 more than St. Charles; more info at IllinoisReportCard.com). That’s before benefits. Over $20,000 is not unusual for just health, dental, and pension at the average salary, and one grade 3 teacher got over $50,000 in stipends, pension, health, dental on a base salary of $72,798 in 2013-14 (type “compensation” into the district website’s search box and go from there).

Kaneland just recently turned the STEM school down. Newspapers quoted the board vice president as saying it would be nice to join, but they just don’t have the money to spend.

Oswego decided last year not to join because they were concerned about the cost for such a small number of students. According to the papers, they didn’t think it was fair to send only 50 students when they have 17,000 other students who they feel are already receiving a quality education.

So why is Batavia considering this? Board members toured the STEM facility this week, after school hours, so they didn’t see any classroom activity. According to Michelle Olache, a candidate running for school board, they had all kinds of fancy toys that would be fun, like 3D printers and real chemistry lab fume hoods. She couldn’t deny that it looked impressive (though she noted the 3rd graders’ planetary models looked like any other 3rd graders’ models). It provides stuff and staff (working with Aurora University and business partners) that Batavia doesn’t have. But she echoed Kaneland and Oswego. Is it fair to spend so much on only 50 students in what is in essence a private school that has selective admission criteria, partners with corporations, has no community input from an elected school board, and charges tuition to member districts? The only reason it exists is because former State Rep.Tom Cross used his power to effect legislation to make it possible. And are 3rd graders too young to send down a path that focuses on STEM subjects?

The school board will likely be voting on this Tuesday, and the expectation is that it will be approved. If you care about this issue, contact the school board ASAP with the button to the right.

A final thought: If Aurora University has such a strong STEM educational program, why not hire teachers who graduate from Aurora University and bring their expertise to all of Batavia’s students?

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