The referendum landslide: What does it mean?

Having covered practically every school board meeting for Evanston Now of both Evanston districts for the last five years or so, the landslide victory for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 operating referendum Tuesday came as a heartening affirmation of the area’s desire for quality education.

Voters, by a four-to-one majority, approved a referendum that will increase taxes of many homes by $400 to $500 a year in an effort to maintain the educational quality of our schools.

It follows a number of significant developments in recent years.

For one, Evanston’s cradle-to-career initiative that involves the schools, the city, and a large number of not-for-profit organizations, is attacking the problem of the gap between test scores of blacks and their white counterparts to the early pre-school years, when educational experts contend the problem probably begins.

Hardly any community in the nation has successfully met that challenge, but Evanstonians never give up trying, and every candidate for election to our two school boards has affirmed their dedication to persuing that goal.

Secondly, officials at Northwestern University have set up liaison mechanisms that bring the resources of that world-class university to bear on classes at both the elementary and high school levels.

At Evanston Township High School, for example, the Northwestern liaison office is located right next to the District 202 superintendent’s office, and it continually brings Northwestern faculty and students to ETHS and the high schoolers to the university campus. And the salary of that liaison official is paid for by the university, not the taxpayers.

Opponents of the referendum pointed out that teachers in our public school system are paid more than the state average. To that assertion, Evanston voters, in effect, said they expect that to be the case, as Evanston deserves the best teachers that money can buy.

District 65’s new superintendent, Paul Goren, was instrumental in attracting a sizeable grant from a national organization to improve access by local students to superior training in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The high school, not content to rely on taxpayer money, and with Superintendent Eric Witherspoon at the helm, has attracted sizeable donations from ETHS alums to renovate the school’s aging planetarium, expanding science laboratories, and instituting classes in astrophysics, again setting them apart from most high schools across the nation.

At the same time, it has instituted classes such as Geometry in Construction, and Algebra in Entreprenuership, to provide opportunities for those students who are not necessarily planning to go on to a four-year college.

The upshot is that Evanston voters, for the most part, are willing to pay higher taxes for an educational system that will enable our young people to get the best possible start in life, regardless of their race or economic standing.

Critics will say that the higher taxes will cause some people to move out of Evanston. But what has actually happened over the years is that our exemplary way of life, augmented by a first-class public educational system, enhanced by its diversity, is encouraging more young families to move to the area, further driving up the value of our homes.

Of course, that also drives up the cost of education, but Evanston voters proved Tuesday that they are up to dealing with that challenge.

So, congratulations to those scores of volunteers who knocked on doors and stood in the cold and the rain to spread the message of a partial solution to the structural deficits that threatened our school system.

Your children and grandchildren will thank you for it.

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Comments

Could not agree more

Wonderful piece. Made me proud to be an Evanstonian.

Whatevs

Yes, Evanstonians value quality education.

Just ask the parents who spend the extra dough to send their kids to Roycemore Academy, Chiavarelle Montesorri, St. Athanasius, St. Joan Arc, Pope John and Beacon Academy. That's a lot of private schools in a town of just 75,000 people.

And yes, no doubt there is a ton of non-profits, many of which benefit from goverment grants, that apparently are hard at work to "fill the gap." But the "fill the gap" problem has been going on for more than 25 years in Evanston with seemingly minimal success. 

D202 spent more than $350,000 on the Pacific Education Group (PEG) to consult teachers and administrators on racial equality, white privilege and institutional racism. Of course, after all that money was spent the "gap" remains. 

No one would question that Evanston deserves the best teachers but how hard is it to fire a public school union teacher or administrator.

Remember what happened last year when D65 board president Candance Chow, vice president Richard Rykhus and board member Jennifer Phillips voted against the appointment of an assistant principal of Nichols Middle School who had just been hired? Union teachers and a handful of parents staged a noisy rally at a board meeting, demanding an explanation. The assistant principal claimed the Board was concerned about his affiliation with PEG. The D65 Board refused to explain why they didn't award him a contract but in the end took another vote and hired him, The point is not whether awarding the asst. principal contract was fair. The point I'm making is it took just a little protest to get the board to change its mind just as it did when it gave the Teacher's Union in December a pay raise after a threat of a strike. Right after that, the Board voted to put the $116 million tax referendum on the ballot.

No doubt most Evanstonians approved the $116 million tax referendum. Perhaps the warnings of school closings and elimination of band and orchestra put the fear in the hearts of many public school parents. It is my opinion that a lot of Chicagoans are moving out of the city and into the burbs because of the largest ever property tax hike passed last year.

No doubt this tax hike will have some affect on Evanston properties as well. And what diversity does Evanston have? Certainly not political diversity. One could argue Evanston schools do not have nearly as much ethnic diversity as Skokie schools where more than 50% of its students come from homes in which a language other than English is spoken - 62 languages in all!

Public elementary schools in Wilmette and Evanston Catholic elementary schools teach foreign language, starting in 5th grade. Not at D65. 

I just wonder how many more generations and tax hikes will it take to fill the gap. And is "filling the gap" what the $116 million tax referendum is really all about? 

I'm still waiting for you to

I'm still waiting for you to act on your declaration of a revolt if this referendum passed.  Have the courage of your conviction and act.  No?  Guess it was all talk.

How about getting involved in D65 or D202 and making a difference?  You're welcome to join the Nichols PTA where my daughter attends.  It'd be great if you wanted to test the theory that a tiny bit of complaining in person makes a difference.  Show up & join us to help make Evanston's public schools better.  We've had enough keyboard commandos with armchair advice who think they've got the solutions to D65's financial concerns.  Perhaps if those people participated, they'd see some of the progress they claim could be easily operationalized.

What "revolt" are you looking

What "revolt" are you looking for?  It will be as effective as "the resistance"....

The teachers will give themselves huge fat raises annually, will never reform pensions or health benefits, and you'll keep paying huge taxes with huge increases every 5 years for it. 

All the union has to say is "for the children" and the bleeding hearts come running. 

Theres nothing to "revolt."  People will leave, and the people who dont mind being lied to will stay. End of story.

"keyboard commandos with armchair advice"

Love your description! I also get a kick out of those who extrapolate trends to make absurd points, like "Evanston voters Tuesday decided to head down a road that, unless they turn back, leads inevitably to fiscal disaster."

Pensions today, or pensions tomorrow

Hi John,

If you dont reform pension today, and those are legal obligations that are growing exponentially, what do you reckon is the end conclusion of that situation?

-- James

Yeah my children will thank

Yeah my children will thank me profusely that they need to pay 5% of their house value annually because the teachers can't contribute more to their healthcare or pensions.

My son will be thrilled!

Finances Not a Matter of Willingness or Unwillingness

I voted against the referendum because I can't afford it, period. I wish my financial situation was fluid enough to afford my giving to causes I believe in -- if it were, I'd be very willing to donate to educational institutions. I've read a lot of stories in this paper in the past few weeks in which it is directly stated or heavily implied that those who vote/voted for this referendum were willing to make sacrifices that those who were against it were not. Education is terribly important to me -- but that doesn't make money magically appear in my bank account. My family doesn't take vacations, ever. We don't go to the movies, and we don't eat out. I am on a fixed income, but my expenses are not fixed. Everytime that an expense is increased, it takes a chunk out of my family's grocery budget because there is no other expense category that is somewhat under my control. I am sure I am not alone in this. Evanston is a great place to live -- if you can afford it. Unfortunately, many of the proud Evanstonians have no real understanding of what it means to live on a budget determined by actual mathematical rules. In my world, the equation "2 + 2 + my values + the needs of the community + what is good for my children and grandchildren = 2 + 2." In the world of proud Evanstonians, apparently the same equation is equal to "whatever other people believe is a reasonable amount." 

Eloquently put--hope that those without $ limits care next time

Some people do not understand living on a budget where every added expense is an important consideration.  It must be a nice way to live.

To assert that those of us who have to question whether we can continue to afford to live in Evanston are just "against education" is hurtful and, bluntly, insensitive to an entire class of people. 

So much for our community's claimed fondness of diversity. With these hefty tax increases, diversity of all types will decline in Evanston.  The very wealthy will remain in their homes and condos while the very poor will remain in apartments and other rentals.

 

What will renters and NU students think ?

I suspect that renters and NU students think a 'Yes' vote is a 'freebe' and yes the stock feel good liberal thing to do.  Will they think the same when their rent increases. I don't recall the ratio of how to compare rents to home prices or mortgage payments and thus how to calculate the effect on the property tax per apartment, but I suspect it is higher than renters assume. Will NU students be shocked IF they think of staying in Evanston after graduation ? Did/do they think about the effect on rent.

I think Coop owners get a Property tax bill sent to them but the tax is actually part of their assessment and not paid directly by them.  Condo and house owners get a Property tax bill but unless things have changed, until they have about 50% equity [that can take a LONG time] the mortgage company or bank pays the tax out of escrow that owners built up along with mortgage payments---the company/bank will ask for additional escrow if the fund runs short.

202 will probably want to get in on the action and get more funding [taxes] after seeing the vote 65 got.

Now you're onto something!

Thanks for (somewhat) bringing up the point of how many neighbors & how many properties/entities in Evanston are free & clear of paying ANY property taxes. Imagine, for a moment, whether D65 would have even had to propose a referendum if the taxable base of properties in our city were large/wide enough... Now there's a problem we'd likely agree upon.


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