One month after North High School students spoke before the Central High School District Board of Education, decrying the condition of the school’s facilities, North parents, teachers and students again filled the cafeteria at Memorial Junior High School on April 9 to demand answers from district administrators.
After three queries that night, however, Board President John Maier announced that Superintendent Bill Heidenreich would no longer answer questions, and would instead compile a list of responses to be handed out at the May 14 meeting. “The superintendent will take notes . . . because we can’t have the back and forth going on,” Maier said. “We’re not going to accomplish anything here tonight.”
In a statement to the Herald, Heidenreich said that the administration would follow up on questions not answered in a “timely manner.”
For some, Maier’s response reinforced the idea that the administration is ignoring students’ and teachers’ concerns. Krista Testani, a North parent, said she was disappointed that the board would “stoop to that level,” and junior Shannon Morgan said the board owed the community answers.
“The board is kind of pushing us under the carpet,” said Morgan, who is the secretary of the grade council.
She added that she and her classmates would like to work with the school board to improve conditions at North, and that it would be counterproductive to vote down the district’s proposed $121.2 million budget, as some parents have suggested on social media. “We don’t want it to be a them-versus- us situation,” Morgan told the Herald. “We’re just trying to advocate for change.”
At the meeting, she detailed several issues at the school, including broken locks on restroom stalls, lockers that don’t open and trash accumulation that rises several inches above the garbage cans’ rims. Morgan also said that last year, the junior class asked the school’s custodial staff to clean out the storage room — where they kept supplies for their annual fundraiser — and remove an “unknown dried substance” from the door, but nothing ever happened. She added that people can see into the girls’ locker room.
A North High School teacher, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, also noted that the eye-wash stations in the science rooms overflow if a student uses them for more than a minute ,and the sinks “look like some alien creature died in them.”
In response to complaints, Heidenreich said that the district is trying to resolve structural problems. Over the weekend, the administration sent in cleaning crews. In addition, new roofing, lights, ceilings and classroom doors were installed, paid for with funds from a $41 million bond passed in 2016. Restrooms, he said, are being redone, and renovations to the science classrooms are “on the horizon.”
“The Board of Education and community have invested heavily in all our facilities, and the board is committed to the long-term care of all of our schools,” Heidenreich said in a statement.
Morgan also said that since she and other grade council members met with Heidenreich a few weeks ago, she has seen improvements. At last week’s meeting, she said that there was now solution for the eyewashes in the science classrooms, and the administration had provided the school with larger trash bins.
However, she said, those are only temporary fixes, and “we would like to see more permanent solutions to prevent the problems from continuing rather than simply fixing them for the time being.” Morgan added that the science classrooms could not be renovated over the summer as Heidenreich originally promised, because the district’s summer school program will be based at North this year.
“We’re often told that ‘we’ll look into it’ or ‘we’re working on it,’” Morgan said of the district’s responses. “But in the long term, we’ve been waiting for these policy changes for an extended period of time, and I think there has to be an effective timeline for change.”
The school has not been well-maintained since 2015, when the school’s janitorial staff was reduced, according to the North High School teacher. A building and conditions survey submitted to the state that year showed that North’s walls and roof needed repairs, because there were signs of leaking; three drinking fountains had to be replaced; 32,000 square feet of ductwork insulation needed replacement; and the science labs and showers required renovation. The survey also showed that there was visible mold in the library, but no accumulation of dust or debris in the school. The report concluded that North was in “good” overall condition.
Since then, the teacher said, conditions have declined. The district, he said, never adapted to the increased enrollment at the school, which was at 88 percent of its capacity in 2017, and the custodial staff couldn’t keep up with the needs of such a large student body. The district allocates custodial staff based on the square footage of each building rather than on the student population.
Testani, the North parent, suggested that the board re-evaluate how it assigns custodial staff, saying, “That should have been a non-issue,” and adding that it is frustrating for parents and students to have to show up with photos of the school’s conditions for the administration to take action.