The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board voted unanimously last night to move ahead with plans for relieving what they perceived to be potentially crowded conditions at Dewey and Willard elementary schools, but they could not agree on whether that would be enough to solve the district’s capacity problems without building a new school in the Fifth Ward.

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board voted unanimously last night to move ahead with plans for relieving what they perceived to be potentially crowded conditions at Dewey and Willard elementary schools, but they could not agree on whether that would be enough to solve the district’s capacity problems without building a new school in the Fifth Ward.

With Katie Bailey and Kim Weaver absent, the five remaining members of the board gave the district’s architects the goahead to develop plans for an estimated $4.2 million addition at Willard that would provide two new classrooms, and an estimated $3.2 million project at Dewey that would add three classrooms. Other schools need work, as well, but the staff contended that the expansion at Dewey and Willard could not wait for the construction of a new school that would not be ready for occupancy until the fall of 2012, assuming that the funding for it is approved in an April referendum.

Board President Keith Terry proposed the creation of a special task force that would consist of two board members plus some teachers and other members of the community, including representatives of the PTA Council. This group would consider not only the financial implications of spending $14 million for a new school, but also other alternatives. Some that have been suggested at this meeting and earlier discussions of the board have included leasing classrooms at the old Foster School, which now houses Family Focus, or at Evanston Township High School, which member Andrew Pigozzi said was once considered large enough to provide for 10,000 students, substantially more than are enrolled today. Leasing space in an old building, he said, “is the greenest thing you can do.”

The board last night pored over spreadsheets prepared by Paul Brinson, the district’s chief information officer, comparing the situation at Dewey and Willard school for the next five years under various scenarios and enrollment projections. At Willard, for example, enrollment is expected to grow from 424 this year to as much as 525 in 2014, without the relief provided by a new school. But if a new school were built, enrollment would reach only to 403 to 465. Similarly, Dewey, with enrollment of 446 today, could reach 557 by 2014 without a new school, but only 473 to 536 with the addition of a new school.

During the public comment period, a number of parents of children living in the Fifth Ward complained that there are no schools that their children can walk to in the Fifth Ward. They are all bused to other schools in the district. The board’s principal champion of a new school in the Fifth Ward, Jerome Summers, gave an impassioned plea to his colleagues “to do the right thing for the right reasons. We have the opportunity to show that we are, indeed, a lighthouse district.”

Expressing the most skepticism was Tracy Quattrocki, who said she is not convinced that adding classrooms to existing schools would not solve the problem without the additional expense of constructing a new school. The time for a decision is drawing nigh, as the Board must make its choice by December 13 if it is to place a referendum for the new school on the April ballot. Quattrocki expressed the hope that, even if they go ahead with the referendum at that time that they can withdraw the vote before the election if they determine that they can get along without the new school.

“Sometimes this board is accused of not listening to the community,” she said. “I just want to make sure that we are responsive to the community.”

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. More fiscal irresponsibility from D65

    I would certainly question Brinson’s numbers for a lot of reasons.

    First, school enrollment is still below the student enrollment of 10 years ago. 

    Second, marriages and births in this area and America are on the decline.

    Third, what are the demographics in the Fifth Ward – that would have been MY first question. I ask this knowing there are a tremendous amount of foreclosuresin the Fifth Ward and many vacant properties.

    Fourth,  Evanston is a mature community – there is no more land to build on.

    It’s pretty clear to me that Summers and Terry are pushing for a new Fifth Ward Elementary. I expect the School Board to GET ALL THE FACTS BEFORE MOVING FORWARD. And why are they so determined to resegregate our schools?

    Let’s not forget, the local, state and national economy is struggling along with almost 10 percent unemployment,  Illinois $13 billion in debt and a chance of a double-dip Recession.

    And of course let’s not forget that the Evanston City Council this year raised water rates, gas and utility taxes, increased the Evanston Township Assessor’s Office budget 80 percent,  approved a $17 million in general obligation bonds to refinance sewer system improvements and increased the police and fire pensions by 11 percent, which will show up in our property tax bills.

    And now it appears the D65 Board is on the fast track to spend tens of millions of dollars to build a new elementary school when there is so far no evidence the Fifth Ward has the adequate demographics to support it. 

    What the D65 School Board should be doing is creating a task force to plan on consolidating D65 and 202, which spends $20,000 per ETHS student each year. Just think how much money that would save by trimming the bloated administration bureaucracy.

    What am I talking about? It’s been six months —– time to extend Hardy Murphy’s contract again.

    Please, please someone with common sense run for the D65 and 202 School Boards.

    1. Agreed about questions the District’s numbers

      In the past the numbers that Brinson has presented have been woefully inaccurate.  Back in the day when the TWI programs were being moved around annually, his numbers were hopelessly wrong.  We the parents knew it and presented him with examples where the errors were very sizable.  We were told that we were wrong.  There have been other examples over the years as well; bottom line is that the numbers that he spews out cannot be trusted, and major Board decisions that are largely based on these figures are very risky.

    2. District 65 Numbers need to be closely scrutinized

      The numbers and assumptions presented by District 65 need to be closely scrutinized for the following reasons :

      1. The proposed new building is very expensive and poses a significant cost to the community (both in the cost to build a new building, but also in the annual cost to operate a new building – remember, a new principal needs to be hired, new support staff etc – teachers would also need to be hired if new classrooms are added to existing buildings, but it’s the "overhead costs" that are incremental and ongoing)

      2. The current D65 administration has a history of skewing its analysis to achieve its desired goals – the prior comment mentioned the TWI program – i would also include, the manner in which the administration has presented ISAT results – another example is the Geometry debate between D65 and D202 – for anyone who looked at the analysis from a couple of years ago, the facts and numbers presented by D65 were both incorrect and biased

      3. Assumptions are assumptions and no one person can perfectly predict the future. Healthy debates and discussions lead to better information and better decisions. Just accepting one person’s information and analysis is akin to following a lemming off the cliff. Do so at your own peril.

      4. Most importantly, a new building in the 5th Ward will have major secondary and tertiary implications with some intended and other unintended consequences – the FULL impact of this decision needs to be understood by the ENTIRE Evanston community (not just D65 participants) and consider the short and longer term ramifications of such a decision. Obviously, 100% of Evanstonians will not reach agreement, but hopefully the discussion and decision will be focused on what is in the best interest of our students – both current and future – historical issues should be discussed, but we as a community need to look forward and put the best interests of ALL children first.

       

    3. Consolidation mindset?

      I don’t understand the pro consolidation people.  On one hand you point out that the numbers need to be studied and scrutinized – and often claim the board is not doing enough – yet you want to take a VOLUNTEER board and DOUBLE what they are going to oversee?  Makes absolutely no sense to me.  How can they effectively comprehend issues facing preschoolers and 19 year olds? 

  2. Alternative Solution

    How about trying something radically different? A group in Madison is proposing a charter school for African-American males in grades 6-12. 

     host.madison.com/ct/news/local/education/article_2405db72-b3d0-11df-8392-001cc4c03286.html

    Of course, this kind of proposal is especially difficult because of our two school districts. I don’t believe we can close the achievement gap while we have two districts working at odds with each other.

    How do we get a referendum on the ballot to merge the districts?

  3. Reasons they have to build/expand

      If you build or expand, you can have a larger staff and administration and hence a larger budget.  All that new "responsibility" allows you to request more staff, higher salaries [more to look after], praise for "expanding education" even if it really has nothing to do with real education.

      A win for administration, a loss for taxpayers.

    ===================================

    NYT article this week on a large school [4100 students] success. and why big is not really worse.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/education/28school.html?th&emc=th

  4. Ain’t dumb institutional money great!

     

    Let’s see, the Willard classrooms will only cost $2.1 million each.  Assuming the classroom is 50 by 30 ft, or 1500 square feet, that computes to a square foot cost of just $1400 per square ft or more than ten times generally accepted construction costs.   Good luck bond buyers.  And if you like them, we have plenty more to sell. 

    1. Dewey Reconstruction

      Has anyone noticed that the District just completed a renovation of Dewey a year ago at a cost of $4 million? If they knew about the space constraints, why didn’t they build more classrooms at that time? It seems irresponsible and short-sighted, to say the least. 

    2. More than just two classrooms

      Tom, the $4.2 million estimated cost  includes a new main office and secure front entrance, a staff lounge, and the conversion of the current lunchroom into a classroom and the conversion of the current main office into another classroom. Your argument may still hold, but to be fair, I  wanted the record to show that it covers more  than just the construction of two classrooms.

  5. The idea of leasing space at

    The idea of leasing space at ETHS is intriguing. Why not create a new K-8 magnet school that will entice enrollment throughout the district and perhaps utilize some of the resources at ETHS? I realize these are two separate districts and that collaboration may be unrealistic, but if the magnet encouraged a challenging college prep curriculum to prepare students to succeed at ETHS and beyond, we as a community can create a positive magnet school that may target children in the 5th ward–as well as offer more choice throughout the community— Maybe I’m just a dreamer (as an educator at a college-prep K-12 school on the West Side of Chicago) I like the idea of adding more options in Evanston to raise the bar and challenge all students. The saying is, "some kids are born on third base and think they hit a triple" —as a community let’s make future plans catching up those kids who haven’t even learned the rules of baseball when going up to bat…just an idea…District 65 does so many things well, I hope that the Board and decision makers take some time to really think this next step through…

    1. Magnet Schools

      Don’t forget that when a Board-requested parent-teacher-adminstator committee recomended that both the existing magnet schools be turned into true magnet schools that were distinctly different from other D65 schools, the Board of Education simply yawned.

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