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Evanston/Skokie’s two school boards are not yet sure whether they even want to talk more about consolidating the two districts after putting it on the agenda for Tuesday night’s annual combined meeting of the two boards.

Each year about this time, the boards of elementary school district 65 and high school district 202, which cover the same territory, encompassing all of Evanston and a small portion of Skokie, take part in a combined meeting that alternates between the high school and the District 65 headquarters.

This year it was District 65’s turn to play host, so the meeting was chaired by its president, Katie Bailey. On the agenda was a presentation by Erika Lindley, executive director of Ed-Red, a Park Ridge-based lobbying group for schools in the north and northwest Chicago suburbs.

Lindley noted that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation that created the School District Realignment and Consolidation Commission to make recommendations about ways to reduce duplication of efforts, lower the property tax burden, and determine the cost savings of consolidation. The group’s report to the legislature is due July 1.

To date, she said, the commission has found that school district consolidation is “incredibly complicated,” although she said its emphasis has been on consolidating small rural districts, serving student bodies that were too small to provide a full-service educational package for students. Evanston’s consolidation would not fit that mold, she noted.

Lindley warned that the emphasis on consolidation should be on improving the educational product, not on reducing costs. In fact, the commission concluded that it would cost upwards of $3.7 billion over a four-year period to consolidate all of the state’s dual school districts, she said, although she could not verify how that number was calculated.

In the discussion that followed her presentation, board members appeared to agree that it should not consider consolidation unless it held out promise for improving the educational experience for the district’s students.

In the past, it has been assumed that consolidation would require teacher pay scales for District 65 to be brought up to the same level as the higher pay for District 202 teachers. Lindley said the state permits that to happen but does not require it. A consolidated salary schedule would be determined by negotiations at the local level, she said.

Bailey said that she and District 202 President Mark Metz have been poring over files pertaining to previous consolidation efforts in the district and noted that in the early 1990s, a consolidation proposal was turned down by the state because it failed to demonstrate conclusively how consolidation would benefit the students.

District 202 member Jonathan Baum, the only person who has served on both boards, expressed surprise that the consolidation discussion was on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting “because I don’t think we’re ready to have that discussion.” Rather, he said, they should talk about whether they want to talk about consolidation.

Andrew Pigozzi of District 65 said “I don’t see a great advantage to consolidating the two districts…The highest performing schools tend to be in unitary high school districts.”

Jerome Summers, District 65, proposed that the time and efforts of the two boards and staffs would be better spent on emphasizing the articulation and collaboration between the two districts.

Lindley noted that there was some money at the state level to pay for consolidation studies at the local level, to which Richard Rykhus of District 65 responded that if those resources were available that perhaps the local districts should take advantage of those funds to conduct a consolidation study for Evanston.

After asking for volunteers from the two boards to meet to recommend further action on the topic, Rykhus and Tracy Quattrocki from District 65 and Deborah Graham from District 202 agreed to form a study group to consider the next steps. Bailey invited other members to participate if they had an interest.

The rest of the meeting was devoted to a presentation by administrators, department chairs, and coordinators on curriculum alignment efforts by the two districts in reading, language arts, social studies, humanities, middle school science, and biology. Purpose of the curriculum alignment is to ensure that District 65 students are well positioned to succeed in high school.

Top: District 202 Board members settle in before the start of the joint meeting of the school boards

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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11 Comments

  1. Evanston school board members are irresponsible

    It seems that our ELECTED school board members are going to listen to a group that lobbies on behalf of school districts.

    In other words, consolidation means less school districts and less school districts means less clients for the lobbying group, Ed-Red.

    I am chagrined to read that Erika Lindley, a lobbyist from Ed-Red, told D65 and D202 school board members that any consolidation "should be on improving the educational product, not on reducing costs."

    Wrong, wrong wrong. More school bureacracy worsens the educational product and increases costs. Ed-Red is clearly in favor of keeping the status quo of more school districts that will equate to even higher taxes.

    Right now, the average pay for an ETHS teacher is $96,000!!!! The annual cost to educate an ETHS student is $20,000 per year – $80,000 for the course of an ETHS education.

    The D202 Board in 2010 awarded Superintendent, Eric Witherspoon, who just rammed through a policy of detracking freshmen honor courses because there were too many white kids in honor classes,  a base salary 2 percent raise to $224,518, an additional $44,900 in a tax-deferred annuity and contributed $23,000 in the state teacher's retirement system. The D202 Board also extended Witherspoon's contract to 2015!!! Don't forget how many times the D65 School Board extended the contract of Superintendent Hardy Murphy who is pushing for the passage of a $48 million referendum to build a new Fifth Ward school

    Imagine if we only had ONE superintendent for Evanston schools and ONE school board. That would improve education and lower costs.

    Notice how even the Ed-Red lobbyist admitted that unifying the teacher salaries in each district is not necessary or mandated in a school consolidation? So in theory, Evanstonians could consolidate D202 and D65 and maintain the CURRENT teacher salary scale for each district.

    Unifying the teacher salaries is NOT even an issue though school board members seem to make it one.

    The D202 and D65 school boards should have been discussing, planning, reviewing and moving forward with a viable plan to consolidate D65 and D202 way back in 2008 at the height of the Recession. Now it's 2012 and the economy is still sinking, Illinois is in the worst fiscal situation in the nation, revenues have dried up and politicians are franticaly finding ways to make up the difference by raising taxes, fees, fines and so on.

    It's got to stop. The only way is through a grassroots movement and voting in school board candidates who will make school consolidation a No. 1 issue.

    If you don't care about the consistent annual tax increases while your property values decline then pay no attention and let our school boards and local government continue to raise taxes and nickel and dime you to death. If you do care, do something about it!!!!

  2. One School Board

    I'd like to see the school district talk consoldiate simply because this town isn't big enough to support 2 school boards.

    This past elections was the first contested election for 202 in …. how many years?

    If we had one school board – I bet each and every election would be fully contested.    How great would that be.

    1. 14 board members? Really?

      Agreed. Is there any public PK-12 system anywhere that serves a single city with 14 board members–and two superintendents? (I know technically we're Evanston and a sliver of Skokie.) 

  3. If it affects our mission – don’t save money?

    The argument that consolidation of the districts would be wrong, even if it saves money, if that would affect the educational mission, is pure bureaucrat-speak.

    With this argument, any agency could fight any cost cuts or defend any cost increases for that matter.

    Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, heads the largest armed force in the world, far beyond the combined armed forces of the next half dozen runners-up. Yet he appears before Congress and says that any cuts would be bad!

    How can one ever address cost when the decisions are up to those who are on the inside? Is there any doubt that a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would decide that military spending is just fine as it is, if not just a tad too low?

    To form a committee to discuss the issue – can't you see the result coming? It would cost something to have a consultant do a study, why not save that money and put it into the mission of education and continue as we are?

    It's this kind of thing that drives taxpayers to despair and produces frustrated NO votes on referendums regardless of the educational merit of the proposals.

    As for the pay difference between the teachers, what a Godsend to oppose consolidation. Union and administration can join hands and smile for once. A cost cut will result in a cost increase – what a way to confound the penny pinchers!

    So the nut to crack is the combination of two issues that are distinct, due to a labor contract(s). The solution is to break the link by altering the union contracts so that consolidation will not result in automatic pay increases for District 65 teachers because, after all, they would still be doing exactly the same job, were consolidation to happen. Whether it is the Dist. 65 or 202 contract, or both, that preserves this linkage, it must be broken as it is not job related.

    Unless this happens, consolidation will never happen. But how does the public get on top of contract negotiations?

    Slam dunk against consolidation.

     

     

     

     

    1. Consolidation: A good way to SAVE money

      The suggestion (Mr. Rykhus') that it would be possible (or desirable) in a K-12 district to have a differential pay scale for elementary, middle, and high school teachers is borderline offensive. I find it unsettling that we already communicate to teachers, kids, and community members that a Calculus teacher is more valuable than a Kindergarten teacher.

      It seems that it's our fault (i.e., it's the by-product of having two boards) that one union has negotiated a much higher pay scale than the other. Dare I link it to there being more male teachers at the HS level?

      In a consolidation scenario, I imagine that both districts would effectlively cease to exist, thereby creating a new district and (necessarily) a new teacher union that would have to negotiate a contract. Chances are good that the new union would aim for a scale that meets in the middle. But I'm not sure why it's assumed that the pay would have to go up to meet the current ETHS scale. It could actually be a  great opportunity to SAVE money–and clean house. Those who don't like the new scale would be free to look for positions elsewhere, retire, etc.

      I'd also be interested in what consolidation would save in adminstrative costs. The superintendents are small change compared to the rest of the leadership at the top. There are many K-12 districts who do far more with far fewer district administrators and staff.

      So the pay issue is really a non-issue. Perhaps both boards are afraid of the unions and afraid that having one board of seven people means seven less of them? The superintendents don't have any reason to advocate it publically either, as it would mean big changes for one or both of them.

  4. Mr. Pigozzi’s speculation

    RE: Andrew Pigozzi of District 65 said, “I don’t see a great advantage to consolidating the two districts…The highest performing schools tend to be in unitary high school districts.”

    I'm sure Mr. Pigozzi was only speculating based on his field of vision, but…

    In the Chicagoland metro area, whether a district is "high school only" or a K-12 unit district is largely a function of how the area developed. In the near north, near northwest, near west, and near south burbs, high schools were created with the township in mind (Niles Township, Evanston Township, New Trier Township). The farther out you go, the more likely it is that districts are K-12 (e.g., Naperville, Barrington, Wheaton, Indian Prairie).

    There's no real arugment to be made for a correlation between achievement and district organization. In Illinois, the top-scoring high schools on the PSAE run the gamut insofar as whether they are from K-12 or 9-12 districts. http://www.schooldigger.com/go/IL/schoolrank.aspx?pagetype=top10&level=3

    The CPS high schools in the top 20 are all selective-admission. (They choose who they let in based on an applicant's academic record.) As for the rest, in general, there's a closer relationship between the demographics of the student body and scores than anything else. Unfortunately, we're still at a place in this city, state, and country where student achievement is predictable by race and socioeconomic status.

    (Nationally, there's not a case to be made for a relationship between district type and achievement either. The top-ranked high schools on the most well-known lists in popular media come from a variety of district types.)

     

    1. Alignment between elementary and high school

      "There's no real arugment to be made for a correlation between achievement and district organization"

      It is true that one can predict overall student performance at schools on the social and economic make-up of the students' families.  But there are things we can do fight against economic determinism.

      We stack the deck against our kids when the two districts are not in alignment.  Did you ever wonder why so many kids who have graduated from D65 need remedial education at D202? D65 considers them proficient at a very low level, pats itself on the back for doing a great job, and rewards the superintendent with another contract extension.  These kids come to the high school, are in for a huge surprise, and if D202 can't quickly rescue them, become demoralized and many drop out.  A similar problem held for kids who were doing better but (until the did away with straight honors) were shocked by truly rigorous classes at ETHS.

      Right now the two districts hold voluntary meetings and are "making progress" to alignment.  Unfortunately, D202 appears to aligning itself with D65's lower standards rather than D65 aligning itself with D202's higher standards.

      We were in D65/D202 for years and now are in a consolidated district. WHAT A DIFFERENCE.  When I attended curriculum  night at our middle school last fall I heard teachers say over and over again "In our meetings with the (science, LA, math, world studies, etc.) department at the HS, we determined we need to do X…" and "We are emphasizing X because our peers at the high school say kids need to know this so they can be ready for Y."  My child is getting high school credit for the accelerated classes she is taking because they really ARE THE SAME.  It is like night and day.

      For the good of all of the children, consolidate the districts.  It's not about money as much as it is about justice.

      1. As the Anonymous poster

        As the Anonymous poster above, I agree with you on the "economic determinism" front, and didn't mean to suggest that a student's background predicts their success in school or in life–just that on a national level, we know that Black, Hispanic, and poor kids don't fare as well on traditional measures of achievement as White, Asian, and rich kids do. But that says more about the assessments than anything else. As a psych prof I had used to say, "How well you did on the SAT is an excellent indicator of how well you did on the SAT." 🙂 And there's still no empircal evidence for Mr. Pigozzi's hypothesis that district organization and achievement are related.

        There's plenty of research that  supports the notion that socio-economic factors are nowhere near deterministic when good curriculum and instruction, and high expectations for all, are at the heart of what happens in the classroom. There's also plenty of research, by the way, to support D202's move to stop using test scores to determine which kids are smart and which aren't and sorting them into deterministic tracks. (If you want to argue against determinism, you've got to go the whole nine yards.)

        The claim that "D65 considers [students] proficient at very low levels" is puzzling to me. D65 does not determine levels for proficiency on the ISAT. The test itself, the requirement to use it as an accountability measure, and the cut-scores for "below, meeting, and exceeds" are established by the state. Both D65 and 202 adminster the accountability tests that are required of them. They had no say in the matter. If anything, D65 does a better job gathering more and different kinds of data than D202 through other and multiple measures. It's useless to compare the ISAT and PSAE, as they are two different kinds of tests that don't purport to measure the same kinds of things. While I don't advocate more testing under any circumstances, the continued finger-pointing at D65 for not holding kids to high standards via ISAT is misplaced.

        While I strongly disagree with the claim that ETHS has "truly rigorous" classes, this is not the place to debate the widespread misconceptions afoot among many members of our community about what consitutes rigor, and whether the old honors Humanities class that ETHS had actually embodied that. 

        I do agree that curricular and instructional alignment between the districts is a much-needed. very desirable thing, and that all stakeholders would benefit from consolidation.

        1. Rate the schools

          Testing to show student and school proficiency is constantly dismissed and defended.

          Some testing is needed [which exams, alternate exam types/providers] but what about using other criteria esp. to rate the schools:  I.e. so can't 'teach to the test.'

          1. Increase in students attending colleges by type and finishing successfully one year or more and graduating

              a. community

              b. four year

              c. highly rated four year

              d. graduate school

          2. Increase in remedial education between elementary and middle, middle and high school.  Also from high school to college [though probably cannoot find out].

          3. Increase in teachers with masters and PhD in their subject [not '____ for educators]

          4. Decrease in students dropping out of ETHS

          5. Decrease in crime/'trouble' at school and by students reported by police.

          6. Increase in parents 'actively' attending parent teacher conferences

          7. Increase in students taking college courses while at ETHS

          8. Increase in awards won by students from recognized bodies such as Intel Science Comp.

           

  5. Consolidation: a question best put to citizens and voters

    For years, people in Evanston have questioned whether it makes sense to have two school boards, two superintendents, two administrative staffs, two separate purchasing functions, etc. In addition to the potential for a more efficient district, a unified district would offer educational advantages, with one board and administration with line of sight over K-12 education. 

    Since it only takes 50 signatures to start the ball rolling, I would like to put a call out to any citizens interested in exploring this option. A lawyer willing to volunteer with some knowledge of IL educational law would be helpful.

    If interested, please send an email with name & contact info to change65.202@gmail.com. Thanks!

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