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Candidates focus on racial dynamics of possible new school

Push for STEM school in predominantly Black 5th Ward runs up against looming district budget deficits.

An image from the candidate forum.

School board candidates in Evanston/Skokie District 65 had a hard and sometimes painful discussion Wednesday night about something many parents want but the district likely can’t afford right now — a new school in the 5th Ward.

It’s an issue which combines two challenging topics — money and race.

All eight candidates, three incumbents and five challengers, answered questions in a Facebook forum hosted by Evanston Live TV.

The primarily minority 5th Ward has been without a school for decades, with children being bused to other parts of town. Non-incumbent Marquise Weatherspoon, a parent of four, said Black children often “do not feel included” in other schools. She said a 5th Ward school is needed.

The candidates agreed that such a school, possibly focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs. would be wonderful for the community and the city. But one problem is money.

But the district is in tough financial shape — figuring out what needs to be cut next year and in years to come. And with most expenses coming from salaries, that could mean job reductions and even layoffs. So spending more when the need is to spend less is a tough sell.

But there’s also another problem. Incumbent board member Joey Hailpern, who also favors a 5th Ward school, said the community “cannot ignore the reality of closing another school in the district” if a 5th Ward building is ever constructed.

Non-incumbent Angela Blaising said closing another school could backfire on the district, because “you need a buy-in from the entire community.” Blaising said closing a school in a predominantly white neighborhood could lead to less diversity in that school, as well as creating “drama and resistance.” She was not opposed to a 5th Ward STEM school, but suggested with current budgetary realities, perhaps some sort of partnership or private funding would be a way to make it happen.

Another non-incumbent, Ndona Muboyayi, suggested the sale of bonds to finance a 5th Ward school. Muboyayi said the current environment in District 65 is “toxic,” with “one side calling everyone white supremacists, and the other side saying you don’t care about us. We have to get away from that,” she added.

The incumbents running for re-election are Biz Lindsay-Ryan, Soo La Kim, and Joey Hailpern. Challengers are Angela Blaising, Katie Magrino Vorhees, Ndony Muboyayi, Donna Wang Su, and Marquise Weatherspoon. Election Day is April 6.

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