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Board won’t put school referendum on April ballot

With time running out and with the economy still struggling, the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board decided to wait until the presidential primaries in March 2012 before asking voters to approve funds for building a new school in the Fifth Ward.

With time running out and with the economy still struggling, the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board decided to wait until the presidential primaries in March 2012 before asking voters to approve funds for building a new school in the Fifth Ward.

The decision came despite predictions of rising enrollments and a decaying infrastructure in a district that has not built a new school in half a century that led some members to push for a referendum on the construction plans next April.

By a voice vote, the board Monday tabled until its Nov. 15 meeting a motion to create a referendum committee charged with developing “a rationale in support of building a new school—including space drivers, historical and education drivers, and community interest and support.”

The action came as a clear disappointment to board members Katie Bailey and Jerome Summers, who had hoped to represent the board on an 11-member committee that would include representatives of parent groups, teachers, and business and community leaders. The committee’s goal would have been to present its findings at the Dec. 6 working board meeting in preparation for a formal vote to authorize an April 2011 referendum at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting.

The Dec. 13 meeting would be the last chance to get a referendum on the April election ballot, which will also see three District 65 board seats up for election.

But other board members said there just wasn’t enough time to do a thorough enough job to convince the voters that the board had explored all other options, such as leasing space in other buildings or fixing up the remaining schools.

“We cannot afford to go out with a fractured referendum,” said Board President Keith Terry.

“From the beginning, I thought this was ambitious,” said Andrew Pigozzi, who threw out the suggestion that perhaps the board should consider air-conditioning the schools to enable them to operate on a year-around basis.

“I think we would have a better chance of success if we went later,” added Tracy Quattrocki, who at an earlier meeting had expressed skepticism about the need for a new school after the board authorized last month the construction of additional classrooms at Dewey and Willard elementary schools.

Bonnie Lockhart said she expected the committee to conduct town hall style meetings throughout the community in an effort to tap into ideas and thoughts of the electorate. She added that in her view it was imperative that the board be unanimous in its decision if it were to go for a referendum.

So now it’s back to the proverbial drawing board for Bailey and Summers to come up with a new charge and a new timeline for consideration by the board at its Nov. 15 meeting.

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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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