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Members of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board backed away Tuesday night from holding an operating fund referendum for existing programs at the same time as a planned new school referendum next March.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said the board should first “take a hard look” at the recommendations made this month by the citizen’s ad-hoc budget committee.

“My fear,” member Kim Weaver said, “is that we don’t know” if the deficit numbers suggested by the district administration are right.

Member Richard Rykhus said that within six months or so the board should have much better numbers to work with — based on the results of contract talks with the district’s unions and other factors.

Top: Katie Bailey, Tracy Quattrocki and Hardy Murphy. Above: Kim Weaver and Richard Rykhus.

Member Katie Bailey said, “This operating deficit is a structural problem. The new school isn’t causing our operating deficit. So to go to an operating referendum now isn’t the right time.”

Member Andrew Pigozzi, noting that the administration’s deficit projections start at $3.3 million for next school year, said that in 2004 the district had to cut $3.5 million in spending.

“So this is something the district’s been through before,” Pigozzi said, “It’s not unprecedented that we would attempt to tackle a deficit like that.”

The districts annual budget now totals more than $100 million.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “The heart of the matter” in terms of the looming deficits, “is the ongoing increase in compensation in the district compared to the rate of revenue increase.”

“That’s saying that negotiations we’re in with our bargaining units will go a long way to determining what the future looks like for us,” Murphy added.

The administration has built its forecast of deficits growing to $8.7 million in 2015-16 on the assumption employees would get pay increases totaling 3.7 percent a year, while projecting that the cost of living, and tax revenue, will increase just 2.5 percent a year.

It was not clear from the discussion whether the board is still considering an operating fund referendum just for the added operating costs for the proposed new school next spring.

Based on estimates prepared by the district’s finance office, the owner of a home valued at $367,000 — the median price for Evanston — would face approximately the following potential annual tax increases under some of the referendum scenarios:

  • $117 for the new school and other capital projects totalling $48.2 million.
  • $87 to provide $2.5 million to cover additional operating costs for the new school.
  • $208 to provide $6 million to cover projected operating deficits for existing schools.

The owner of a typical Evanston home already pays more than $3,000 a year in property taxes to District 65.

Depending on the outcome of the budget talks and the expected new school referendum in March, the board could schedule an operating fund referendum to coincide with the next fall’s presidential election, or with the municipal elections in April 2013.

The board is scheduled to formally vote on its referendum plans at meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the district administration building, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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9 Comments

  1. I wonder if  the D65 union

    I wonder if  the D65 union would vote for a new pay scale if it meant that the best teachers (whether they have been in district for 2 years or 30) were getting paid more than the rest. I don't have a problem giving teachers raises if they are doing well, but I don't like the idea of flat raises for everybody regardless of performance.

  2. Does anyone else see the insanity?

    District 65 will be millions of dollars in the red next year and increasing every year for several years.  We may not know the exact amount but it will be millions.

    Yet the people that we elected to the District 65 School Board are blindly following along with a referendum to build a new school and spend millions more?  A new school that is not needed in terms of capacity (we have excess capacity in our current schools) and it not needed in terms of the educational satisfaction with the current situation as expressed by 5th ward parents who have children in District 65.

    Is there anyone in this community who can stand up and say this is stupid?  I will — this is stupid. 

    If your family is already running a deficit every month, do you go out and look for ways to spend money on "wants" (rather than "needs") without making any cuts in spending?  No, you focus on the needs and you must make cuts in what you are already spending.  You do not look for ways to spend more on "wants"!

    I see the District 65 School Board as a bunch of sheep, blindly following wherever Hardy Murphy chooses to go.  Perhaps Hardy Murphy does not care about his real estate taxes as he is paid almost $280,000 a year, including a housing allowance that probably more than covers his property taxes.

    Someone on this Board needs to develop a brain and a spine.

    1. Yes, I see the “insanity”

      As an artist with 4 kids and a working spouse, we have a budget we follow. When our expenses exceed our revenues we cut back. Our schools, City government, state government and federal government just keep on spending. Why? It's not their money and it's more enjoyable to buy things for your constituents so you get re-elected and let someone else pay the bills later. (borrow money to enable current consumption and let future generations pay off the debt)

      For District 65, it's irresponsible to consider building a new school in the current economic environment and in their current fiscal situation where they are already forecasting massive deficits of almost $9mm in 4 years  for Fiscal  2015/2016. One has to question D65 assumptions (something that the recent Community Budget Committee was not allowed to do – they had to accept the District numbers as fact) State Revenues for example are expected to grow from $11.4mm in Fiscal 2011/2012 to $12.9mm by Fiscal 2015/2016 and on page 3 of the August 16th Tentative Budget the report states, "State revenues will be revised once the final state appropriation for FY12 is available." Given the fiscal situation in Illinois which way do you think those numbers are going? Bill Stafford, CFO at 202, said at a recent board meeting that overall state revenues are trailing projections. Don't you think that will ultimately affect all schools in Illinois, including Evanston schools? Also, the school enrollment projections in D65 have been revised DOWNWARD since this new school discussion started. Were there motivations to have an overly aggressive growth projection for students? Last time i checked the Evanston Census numbers, the population in Evanston is around 75,000 people, FLAT over the last 10 years. Real median family income in our country is down over 5% in the last 10 years. Taxpayers are feeling the stress. It seems that in this environment, that we should budget conservatively and HOPE we get surprised on the upside. So in light of all this Evanston D65 is going to build a new school?

      Yes, i see the insanity. Do others?

    2. YES!!!  The capacity at ETHS

      YES!!!  The capacity at ETHS MUST be fully utilized before spending money we do not  have on a  new building or on any additions.  And the excessive administrative salaries are no longer affordable. 

  3. For districts and communities

    For districts and communities facing deficit and budgetary issues, the Video Gaming Act (VGA) should be viewed as a viable, significant source of extra local revenue. As the largest source of funding for the $31 billion Illinois capital plan, the VGA gives municipalities across the state unrestricted use over the revenue generated through the act’s tax program, while helping to repair Illinois’ crumbling infrastructure system. The state collects a 30% tax of the net income generated by individual video gaming terminals, and then distributes one sixth of that tax back to the municipality, which can use the revenue for local projects and priorities. Again, this revenue stream is completely unrestricted in its usage and is placed under local control; communities could potentially use it toward budget deficits like those detailed above. Evanston, for example, can generate $866,250 annually through the VGA. For more information on the VGA and the Illinois capital plan, please visit http://www.backtoworkillinois.com.

    1. @ Back to work Ill – Gambling?

      Gambling an answer to our financial woes… Really? 

      I'm sorry but back to the drawingboard – gambling won't help anybody (except maybe the gambling interests).

      Brian G. Becharas

      1. Gambling and the poor/dreamers

        It is amazing that so many politicians at so many levels want to talk about expanding gambling while always talking about the poor and how they need financial help—-and this probably also includes many of the 'middle class' who won't admit it.

        Who looses ? The poor and those who are always looking for a magical cure.  They spend their money on gambling and then need assistance [food stamps, housing supplements, welfare, etc] and/or complain about the top 1%. 

        It is not just the horse races, casinos but also something as 'simple' as the various Lotto games that make it easy to drop into a store and buy tickets.  Everytime I go to the grocery store [esp. small ones] I see people who from all appearances cannot afford to be spending $10-20 or more at a time on Lotto tickets. 

        Where are the politicians, church leaders and educators teaching them the odds if not common sense.  Just look at the odds and payoff.  Look at the PowerBall which is the only one where the payoff has even a chance of paying off.  With odds of 195,249,054 you would need a payoff of $195,249,054. You would have to buy 195,249,054 tickets to be sure of winning—and if someone else picked the winning ticket your payoff would be cut in half and then there are taxes and remember the payoff is an annuity so the present value is much less. For a $1 ticket the payoff is $0.000000005122—before taxes and annuity payment.

        So politicans promote gambling as giving people as a way ["dream"] to get rich and then raise taxes to pay welfare for those who play !

  4. Get involved!

    President Obama's annual salary is $400,000 (with an additional $50,000 for official purposes only). (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2010-04-07/news/28389033_1_salary-second-term-legislation).  Why on earth are we paying a school superintendent well over half of what the leader of our entire country makes  — particularly in light of cutbacks and layoffs in our district?  Why are we talking about building another school when we are already deeply in debt.  That, to me, is both stupid AND insane.  Compounding this is talk about raising school funds via gambling.  What is the matter with us!?!?!?

    We can continue to blame the School Board, the Teacher's Union, the teachers themselves, school administrators, the students, the parents, and so forth.  That's easy.  The difficult part is attending and speaking out at meetings to voice our concerns, to participate in the campaigns and elections for more board members who are willing to challenge the superintendent and his outrageous compensation package and the notion that we should build another school, to volunteer in the schools to help the teachers, to participate in after-school tutoring programs.   In other words, Evanstonians need to get more involved.

    Citizen involvement is crucial for our community.  A great many of us are still fortunate to have full-time jobs and volunteering during the school day is simply not possible.  Why not find out more about late afternoon/early evening/weekend tutoring programs already organized?  Phone your local school to see if there are any volunteer openings. 

    Those of us who are out of work and seeking a job — spend just a couple of hours per week at a school as a volunteer.   Searching for a job in this economy can be terribly depressing, but helping kids can lift our spirits and give us a sense of purpose while we look for work.  Those of us who are retired — what better way to spend our time than helping the children of our community, even if only for  2-3 hours per week?  If you don't want to work directly with the students, contact your neighborhood school to see if they need office help.  See what you can do to suppport school fundraisers.  Get involved with the neighborhood parent-teacher organization. 

    Consider volunteering to teach adult literacy if you'd rather not work around children.  Too many young parents themselves struggled in school and may not have the education to help their own children.  Those of us who have solid educational backgrounds can (in the words of Angela Davis) "lift as we climb."    As we work to improve our own lives, we have to look back to those who are struggling and help them achieve.

    If your own children are currently in school, how can you ensure that they are doing their best with their homework?  If they are struggling, ask the teachers for ideas on how to help them.  Read with your children, find math/science games on the computer to solve with them.  Make good use of our libraries.  The need for parental involvement cannot be overstated.

    And if you think a teacher's job isn't one of the most difficult, think again. Few of us would last a week in today's classroom.  Ask teachers about their high achievers and low achievers.  Odds are the high achievers have families who invest their time and energy in the students' education.

    We cannot ask the teachers to do it all.  If you know a District 65 or 202 teacher and you have the resources, ask if you can make a gift of some sort to his/her classroom.  I imagine every teacher has a "wish list."  I know we all pay taxes (either through property taxes or in our rent) to pay for our schools, but it's clear that our children need more.  They deserve more. 

    Parents, grandparents, anyone and everyone:  Think of how great our schools could be.  Think about how much time you spend watching TV or sitting in front of your computer.  Can you spare just two of those hours per week to make your community a better place?  Two hours per week to make a difference in the lives of our children?  This isn't just their future — it's yours and mine, too. 

    Step up. Show your support for education and your community in an active and meaningful way.  You'll feel good about yourself and you'll be making a difference in your neighborhood! 

    And let's begin talking with our neighbors and our school board members about less cuts in the classroom, more support for our teachers, and a sane, affordable compensation package for our superintendent.

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