Assuming that the budget numbers work out and that the students are likely to benefit, all the candidates for the two Evanston/Skokie school districts at a forum at Haven Middle School last night said they would favor combining districts 65 and 202 into a single governmental unit. (Updated with video.)
Those assumptions, of course, constitute two big “if’s,” but none of the candidates categorically opposed a move that has been discussed and debated here for decades but that would conform with a nationwide trend toward improved government efficiencies spurred by a sputtering economy of the last few years.
Candidates at the forum for three spots on the elementary District 65 board were incumbents Katie Bailey and Keith Terry and challengers Eileen Budde, J. B. Rees, and Richard Rykhus.
Vying for three positions on the District 202 high school board were incumbents Jane Colleton and Mark Metz and challengers Jonathan Baum and Scott Rochelle. Absent was 202 candidate Cherie Hansen, co-president of the Evanston Township High School PTSA, who moderator Jeff Smith announced was unable to attend because of a family emergency.
The forum was co-sponsored by the Central Street Neighbors Association and the Haven PTA.
In response to a question from Smith, all the candidates professed a willingness to examine the possibilities, but there was a wide range of enthusiasm and skepticism about consolidation.
On the District 65 side, Rees said “I’m for it,” adding that the continuity would benefit the students. Among the District 202 candidates, Baum, who has served a term on the 65 board, has campaigned on a platform of a “seamless” educational experience for all students and that even without consolidation, the two systems should act as one. “There is no question that the students would benefit,” he declared.
Colleton, in her 20th year on the 202 board and the current vice president, said that disparities in teacher salaries between the two districts has traditionally been a stumbling block on consolidation and that merging the two would not necessarily “be the answer to what ails either district.” Budde, a math teacher whose parents were also teachers in other parts of the country, said she felt the issue of combining unequal teacher salaries could be worked out, noting that “Illinois has 1/13th of the school districts” in the United States. After the forum had adjourned, Colleton said that the non-incumbents “don’t really know” how they would vote after joining either board.
Bailey, who chairs the finance committee of the 65 board, said she would be willing to look at the consolidation issue. “If it would work financially, then yes,” she said. Terry, current president of the 65 board, said he would be primarily interested in the “outcomes for families and kids” in the district. Rochelle, conceding that consolidation might make sense financially, said “I want to know the impact on the kids.”
Metz said he would focus on the unintended consequences of consolidation, “and there are always unintended consequences.” Rhykus said he would want to examine “the benefits and challenges” of consolidation, but that he could not yet say which side he would be on.
On other issues, the candidates were pretty much in agreement that teachers are worth what they are paid, that the boards should keep a sharp eye on expenses, that students should continue to benefit from a rigorous curriculum, that school programs should be subjected to critical evaluation of outcomes, and that the school year should probably be lengthened.
Early voting in the school board election starts March 14. Election day is April 5.