Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl proposed this morning that the city add an advisory referendum question to April’s election ballot asking whether voters want to close the city’s branch libraries.

But her trial balloon was was rejected immediately at a budget discussion session by aldermen on both sides of the branch library controversy.

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl proposed this morning that the city add an advisory referendum question to April’s election ballot asking whether voters want to close the city’s branch libraries.

But her trial balloon was was rejected immediately at a budget discussion session by aldermen on both sides of the branch library controversy.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who wants the branches closed, said Evanston shouldn’t move toward California-style government by referendum. Aldermen are elected to be leaders and make decisions, Burrus said, and a referendum would “just let us hide” rather than taking a stand.

She argued that a referendum’s outcome would not truly represent the views of the majority of residents because wealthy people vote in higher numbers than people with lower incomes and whites vote more often than minorities. The existing branches are in some of the city’s wealthiest and whitest neighborhoods.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, who wants to keep the branches open, said he agreed with Burrus that the City Council should make the decision. But he suggested the council should give the Library Board a set amount of money for its overall budget and let the board decide what to spend it on.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who favors closing the branches, said that if there were to be a referendum, it should be on establishing a separate library district — completely independent of the city, with its own elected board. She said she’d support holding that referendum, though she’d vote “no” on it in the voting booth.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she’s generally against referendums. “We were elected to make decisions,” Fiske said.

Fiske, who’s considered a possible swing vote on the library issue, said she had favored establishing special service area taxing districts to fund branches, an idea that branch library supporters strongly rejected. She said she’d like to see that idea looked at again.

Fiske also said she believes libraries can be very helpful for the economic growth of neighborhood business districts in which they are located.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, a branch supporter, said she’s “struck by how divisive the issue is, when it shouldn’t be.”

“People who support the branches don’t seem to think there’s anybody out there who disagrees with them,” Wynne said, “And people who don’t support branches don’t appreciate how many people do support them.”

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he was still unclear about the state of the law is about control over the libraries and called for the city’s law department to produce a definitive analysis backed up by citations to case law and state statutes.

He said the council needs to better understand what its options are.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has proposed that library funding be left essentially unchanged in the 2011 budget from what aldermen approved for this year but that the branches be closed and the additional resources be devoted to the main library. If the branches were not closed

The mayor’s referendum proposal was not put to a vote, and it was unclear whether it might be revived at some point in the future. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Need a referendum on one school district for Evanston

    It is beginning to appear that Alderperson Burrus is one of the only elected council persons who is of "sound" thought.  The Mayor has been on the Council for over two terms and allowed the City to get into most its current crises. Our current mayor appears to be all about increasing our taxes and being overly supportive of local elitism individuals/groups. 

    At a recent District Town Hall Meeting, our current mayor related that  Evanston’s two school districts’ unions will never allow consolidation into one School district for Evanston.  A salient amout of our property taxes go for supporting two school districts: Can we continue to support such? & Do the unions of our school districts and Fire Department dictate to the citizens of Evanston? It is my thought that the answers to the latter questions are "Yes."

    It is also my thought that when District 65 place a referendum on the ballot for a new school, a referendum for one School district should also be placed on the ballot…

  2. Vote Yes for the referendum for combined school district

    I agree with the comment regarding a referendum for a single school district.  This is makes so much sense and is one of many solutions that we need consider to try to bring back some common sense to our taxing bodies.  Almost everyone agrees with the idea that a duplication of services, facilities, etc. doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless of course the service area is too large.  This is simply not the case in this instance.  So, the underlying reason it has remained – or even was created in the first place appears to lie in the unequal pay between the high school teaching force and the elementary teaching force.  It seems to me that this can be solved without the added expense of duplication of support services and administration.  Not only would this help with the taxpayer’s burden – it should help with our students and our parents experience as they shift between districts during their educational paths.  

    This idea has come up many times in the past, and I am not sure of the history of exactly why it failed.  Probably, like most common sense ideas, it failed for lack of shear political will.  No backbone by the elected or administrative officials to challenge themselves to come up with solutions –instead of saying it just cannot be done because of differing pay scales between our 2 “classes” of teaching professionals. 

    Maybe someone can offer some insights that would be constructive in pursuing this goal and overcoming past obstacles toward achieving a single district.  The time appears ripe for this as there are less and less resources for this luxury of ignoring obvious solutions towards financial savings.



    1. Consolidation would also be better for students

      Some will argue that the needs of elementary school students are so different than the needs of high school students that consolidation won’t work for students.  Right now it doesn’t.

      Right now taxpayers pay for remedial education for the about 1 in 7 students District 65 deems "proficient" enough in math, reading, science, etc.  to move on to the high school.  Two different sets of standards for the two districts mean that some of the students will be passed along to the high school with lower skill levels meaning District 202 will have to provide additional services to bring students up to skill level.  Many of these students will consider dropping out of school because they feel demoralized and too many of those actually will.

      So some will think the best reason to consolidate is to be more efficient in terms of services.  Others will think consolidation is a good idea because it will be good for students. 

  3. Single school district

     One problem with a single district is that both sets of teachers will have to have same salary schedule and benefits.  That means D65 teachers will have to have same pay and benefit as D202.

    Social justice.

    1. Why D65 & D202 “Have to have same pay and benefits?”

      Currently, with 2 separate districts, D65 & D202 teachers are on a different pay scale. Why does this HAVE to change if Evanston adopts a unified school district? The typical response is just a bureaucratic answer.

      In practice, we should be making decisions that are in the best interests of ALL STUDENTS – and the community – i.e. providing the best service at the lowest cost.

      Our teachers and administrators are extremely important and the Evanston community highly values ALL teachers and administrators who do a great job – this should be clearly stated. But when our community is stone walled on important issues and decisions are made in the best interest of underperforming teachers and in the name of building the bureaucracy – people become rightfully upset.

      Think about the benefits of a unified district – curriculum consistency, more students (especially those of color) being prepared to take and suceed in honors level classes, lower technology costs (today there are 2 separate groups of technology standards and people employed to support them – e.g. D202 has ETHS Home Access and D65 has Parent Portal – SisK12 – why not one seemless system?)

      The 2 districts are increasingly operating as 2 separate fiefdoms as opposed to providing continuity for the education of ALL CHILDREN.

    2. Response to Single School District

      Assumptions such as these have been keeping the 2-district status quo for too long. 

      Why assume that in order to combine the school districts, District 65 teachers need to make the same amount as the District 202 teachers?  An independent analysis needs to be done to arrive at the appropriate pay-scales for all teachers in Evanston.   If someone has their masters degree, why should they be paid a different amount to teach a 9th grader than to teach an 8th grader?  It appears to be just because they are in a ‘different’ school district – although serviing the same boundries?  It really doesn’t make much sense and yet this is the thinking has directed the decision making for decades. Teachers should be paid for the work they do, the type of training they have, what area teachers are making in similar comparisons, etc.; not which school district they are in.


      1. Different pay for very different jobs?

        First, on the face of the issue, I am in favor of consolidation if it will cut down on some of the bloat and administrative redundancy within the 2 districts.  Economies of scale, and all that.

        Now, in respect of the pay issue, remember that elementary teachers operate much differently than HS teachers.  Elementary teachers have a single class of 20+ students that they work with throughout the day.  On the other hand, HS and junior high teachers have to teach 5-7 sessions of a class to 20+ students.  This equates to (at a minimum guess) 5 times as much grading work for the teachers.  They are also expected to be able to adjust their teaching strategies to a much greater number and variety of individual students.

        With that in mind, I assume there are already pay differentials within D65 for K-5 teachers and the 6-8 grade middle school teachers–why would there "have" to be parity in pay among the D202 & D65 teachers if there were consolidation?

        I’m not a teacher, but if someone could shed some light on these issues, it might help move any potential action towards a referendum forward…

        Jason Hays

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