The Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board is expected to face a new challenge tonight as it wrestles with the proposed budget for the 2012-2013 school year: a request from a group of parents at Evanston’s Chute Middle School to allocate funds to remove 12 sets of metal bars, a feature of the school since it was built in 1966, that make some students feel like they’re “jailbirds.”
The parents’ case was bolstered by an editorial in today’s Chicago Tribune that admonishes the board to find an alternate means of providing security for the school “without caging them.” The Tribune editorial says the parents have been circulating petitions in advance of an appearance at tonight’s meeting.
But the bars issue faces considerable competition from other community groups.
At last month’s Finance Committee, for example, a group of parents protested cuts in fulltime fine arts instructors.
Another group is asking the board to pay more attention to falling test scores among disabled students and to avoid cuts in co-teachers and aides to accommodate those students.
Still another group is concerned with the viability of a special “African-Centered Curriculum” designed to bolster the self-image of minority students. One of the classes in that program, offered at Oakton Elementary School, contains only nine students.
Meanwhile, parents at Lincolnwood Elementary School are calling for additional classrooms and teachers to combat overcrowding that threatens to increase class sizes over and above the board’s guidelines.
At the same time, the board is attempting to deal with the defeat of a referendum in March that would have authorized it to sell bonds to finance the construction of a new elementary school in the city’s 5th Ward, plus additional classrooms at the district’s middle schools, to cope with rising enrollments as new families with school-age children move into homes previously occupied by aging boomers.
Some board members assume that the referendum rejection was a message that voters want the district to make changes in staffing and operations that will avoid or delay the need for higher property taxes.
To that end, the administration has proposed a number of “budget-balancing strategies” for next year that has precipitated frustration among various constituency groups.
It is within this context that the petition on removing the bars will be received tonight.