The Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board found $1.2 million in the capital budget to eliminate the prison-like bars at Chute Middle School, but it’s not sure it can afford $300,000 to restore fine arts teachers to the operations budget for next year.

With minimal discussion, the committee Monday night recommended adding $1.2 million to create a “welcome center” at Chute that would do away with the controversial entrance gates that have been a defining feature of the building since it was erected in 1966.

But it was reluctant to reverse the administration’s recommended cuts in the fine arts staff for next year, as that may cause problems with potential deficits in later years.

In the arcane world of school finance, capital projects, such as the Chute entrance modifications, are one-time expenditures, while operating costs come back year after year.

So after 20 years, that $1.2 million at Chute amounts to a mere $60,000 a year, while the $300,000 for the fine arts instructors would escalate to some $6 million, not counting inflation.

Concerned parents and teachers observe Finance Committee proceedings.

In a presentation by district comptroller Kathy Zalewski, the committee was told that the current fiscal year will end June 30 with a surplus of about $400,000. The administration’s budget for next year calls for a surplus of $207,000 and for surpluses for the following two years as well.

But the two years after that, FY2016 and 2017, the administration projects deficits of $2 million and $3 million, respectively, barring changes in budget assumptions, such as anticipated tax revenues and future expenses.

Board President Katie Bailey recommended putting some of the fine arts teachers back, particularly those in the low-income schools, while board member Richard Rykhus advocated restoring all of the fine arts teachers that had been cut in the draft budget.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy warned, however, that such a move, while possible this year, would throw off the projections for future years.

The committee asked for revised projections, based upon the three scenarios, to be available for their consideration at the regular board meeting scheduled for next Monday.

Meanwhile, the capital budget expenditures for  additional classroom space at the other two middle schools, Haven and Nichols, and at Lincolnwood Elementary, were recommended for approval by the full board as well.

Top: The security gates at Chute Middle School that some parents find objectionable.

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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  1. Chute metal bars now a top priority? When is the next election?

    Let me get this straight.

    D65 plans to spend up to $1.2 million to remove bars at Chute that have been there for 46 years but will only spend about $850,000 for a Lincolnwood addition and won't rehire the fine art teachers because of budget constraints?

    This after spending more than $15 million in the past three years for two Dewey additions and additions at Lincoln and Willard?

    Lincolnwood has had large classrooms for several years and D65 sends into these large sometimes chaotic classrooms the district's emotionally disturbed students who take up a much needed classroom at the school. 

    With all the financial problems D65 faces, the district capitulates almost overnight to a small group of people who somehow managed to get the Tribune Editorial Board to write an editorial about the bars looking like a jail.

    46 years later and metal bars at Chute becomes a top priority at D65!!!!


    Do we ever need new leadership.


    1. Lincolnwood project is $1 million

      Actually, the Lincolnwood estimate tops out at $1 million, which includes two classrooms, a secure entrance, and an elevator. It also includes $85,000 for site development, $133,000 in professional fees for the architect and others, and a contingency fee of $124,000 to cover unforeseens.

      Of course, that still comes in less than the $1.2 million for Chute that adds no classroom capacity to the school.

      1. Chute’s plan also includes more than bar removal

        I was at the meeting last night & I understood the $1.2 million construction budget for Chute to include a secure entrance and office area. Currently you can be buzzed into the building, but the office isn't located nearby & people entering can wander the building unchecked. The district has created secure entrances at Willard, Dawes, Oakton, Lincoln, and I think Dewey. They are also including secure entrances in the plans at Lincolnwood & Nichols. I'm not sure about Haven because I came to the meeting after the presentation started. 

  2. Different funds for different purposes

    Funds alloted for capital improvements, by law, can only be used for that purpose. The $1.2 million designated for removing the bars outside of Chute is money that could be spent on a variety of capital improvements but not on teacher salaries. Further, if monies are not spent one year, the state or the feds may not allot that money the next year under the pretense such funds are unneccessary.

    In writing, "[the] School Board found $1.2 million in the capital budget to eliminate the prison-like bars at Chute Middle School, but it’s not sure it can afford $300,000 to restore fine arts teachers," might lead one to think that these funds can be used interchangeably. They can't.

  3. Safety of students and/or building

    Has anyone given thought to why the bars at Chute were installed in the first place?

    Perhaps they were for the safety of the building and/or students. 

  4. Chute Entrance

    If we get rid of the bars at Chute, will we need a full-time security guard position created to keep criminals (pedophiles?) out of the school?  Who cares if children feel like they are in prison?  With or without bars, which of us DIDN'T feel like we were in prison on beautiful fall or spring days back when we were closeted in a school classroom?  Taking the bars away isn't going to soft pedal the notion that the children HAVE to be in a classroom to learn.

    I am happy to not have a child in that school.  Where is the concern for keeping intruders out of the school?

    1. Who cares if students feel that they are in prison? I do

      No, they won't need a full-time security guard as the proposal is to have a central welcome center just behind the current location of the bars.  That is the focus of the construction work.  The current system of exterior doors with cameras and buzzers is not secure as the main office is far removed from many of these doors.

      No child should view their school as a prison.  The students at Chute that I know are eager learners but the image and feeling of being "behind bars", with those bars found at the most prominent location in the school, have been negative and damaging for decades. 

      So to increase security (having a central welcome/security center), to improve the image of this excellent school districtwide and to eliminate the very real negative feeling from being "behind bars", the committee made the right recommendation.

      I, for one, am very proud to have a child at Chute Middle School.  And the proposed construction would keep intruders out much more reliably than the current arrangement.  And I loved school — never viewing it as a prison even on the sunniest of days.  It's too bad that that was your experience.


      1. Chute… preparing our kids for the future

        1 out of every 142 Americans is now actually in prison, but 1 out of every 32 Americans is either in prison or on parole from prison, according to yet another report on Americans misbehaving from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  

        Seems to me that schools are supposed to be preparing ALL of their students for the future.  Leaving the bars in place will help prepare some of those kids for the penal system that plans to imprison them at the hand of the corporate business (which we are now aware is a person thanks to Citizens United) that generates revenue by doing so.

        In all seriousness though (yes, the last two comments were a joke), I would prefer to have my tax dollars spent IN the classroom on educating my child with actual knowledge rather than on the facade of a building that doesn't actually require repair.  Oh – and if you didn't feel like you were in jail when you were in school, you were one of those 3 kids in every class that felt that way… in other words, you were the minority.

        1. Really bad joke

          It may come as a surprise to you but your comments aren't anywhere near a joke.  Instead, they are hurtful and offensive to the school population at Chute that is majority-minority and majority-low income. 

          But they are just south side kids, right?  They deserve to be the brunt of your jokes about preparing them for life in the prison system, right?  Give it a second thought and please consider posting an apology to the Chute students for your thoughtless attempt at humor.

          And no, despite your insinuations, I wasn't a nerd.  Far from it.  My parents taught me that school was an opportunity and to make the most of it.  I am proud to carry on that tradition with my own children already at Chute and those still to come.  They value the education that they are receiving every single day and do not view school as a prison — ever.  They are excelling in every area and are happy.  And surprise to you, I'm sure, they are talking about going to college, not prison.

          And, by the way, I'm proud to be in the minority in more ways than one.

          1. Assumptions on your part….

            Actually, I never insinuated you were a nerd.  I don't think the intelligent kids in the class were nerds – I think I might have been one of them (or at any rate, I didn't really pay attention, but the work came easy nonetheless and I maintained excellent grades).  That your imagination took you to that word causes me to wonder a bit about how you actually view society – it is strictly my opinon, but giving groups a name which ultimately categorizes is an abhorable practice since it allows us to remove faces in lieu of a group.  I prefer to practice individuality instead.

            Regarding my comment, I generally refrain from telling folks how to interact with other people (judge not…. ), when to apologize, et. al., so I am hopeful you might employ the same practice.  Freedom of speech, right?

            In response to your comments:  "But they are just south side kids, right?  They deserve to be the brunt of your jokes about preparing them for life in the prison system, right?"    –On the internet, with its anonimity, we might all be minorities, northies, southies, straight, gay, anything under the sun.  You have no idea where I live, my sex, what I look like, how much I make and the preferences for how I live my life…  and I only know what you tell me about yourself…. nothing more.

            And finally, in response to your comment, "I'm proud to be in the minority in more ways than one" — I applaud your ability to be proud.  I, unfortunately, have never been able to feel pride in anything due to our strict and pious upbringing which taught us pride goeth before a haughty spirit and a haughty spirit before a fall.  You are most fortunate to be able to explore the feeling of pride!

          2. 1st Amendment goes both ways

            The First Amendment gives me the right to call your comments what they were — rude and insulting of our Chute students (ages 11-14) and our south side school. 

            And hopefully you can be mature enough to recognize that an apology is warranted.  With freedom comes responsibility.


  5. And I thought they were going

    And I thought they were going to spend a million dollars just to tear down a fence!

  6. It’s not approved yet

    I was also at the meeting. The finance committee decided to recommend that the full board approve spending up to $400,000 on architectural fees for plans to be used for bidding work at Chute, Lincolnwood, Haven, and Nichols. The work itself is preliminarily estimated to cost some $11 million in total, including an indoor welcome center at Chute for $1.2 million in place of the fenced outdoor entrance, but the costs will not be firm until plans are done and put out for bids.

    After that happens, then the board will have the information it needs to decide what work to contract for in the four schools, and whether the welcome center or classrooms or other options are worth funding.

    The fine arts teachers are only one part of previously proposed "staffing efficiencies," which also include PE teachers and aides for TWI and special ed inclusion classes. All of the "efficiencies," which together equal $300,000, amount to spreading fewer staff members more thinly over more classes, which has raised some questions about the impact that will have on educational outcomes.

    The board and administration had a miscommunication in which the board members thought staff had promised to show them the budget impact of restoring fine arts staff in the schools with a large proportion of low income students, while Dr. Murphy insisted he had only promised to "reflect upon" that possibility.

    Since no change was made, the board members insisted that the administration present several alternative budget scenarios at next week's board meeting so its members can make an informed decision. Although Rykhus suggested one alternative–reflect restoring fine arts teachers at all the schools, in the end everyone agreed that only Bailey's suggestion of restoring that staff in the Title I schools would be presented as an alternative to the administration's proposed "efficiencies."

    In public comments, one person suggested it is only fair to take the same "Chinese menu" approach used for the construction options in evaluating choices in staffing. Another echoed board members who did not agree with Murphy's insistence that he only promised to reflect upon rather than present an analysis of staff restorations. Another spoke about the impact that the proposed staffing changes would have on students, especially low income students.

    Two people spoke about the importance of adding classrooms at Lincolnwood school.

  7. Does anyone know what they are doing? ( 65, 202 or the city)

    The picture posted in the story shows – metal cages fencing, using for industrial applications, to fence off interior areas of floor space for storage.   These metal cages can be removed with very little cost.  Given the story or comments do not tell everything, I can not say what is the cost. But to remove the one piece as showen in the photo a few hundred dollars, unless it is attached in a way that the building would need a repair, but even then it should not be much money.

    During the recent election, while I did not do a detail review of the projects they were proposing it appear, some of them were not need, or basically just spending money for nice to do things.

    My children are long gone from District 65 but it appears nothing changes, with misuse of tax dollars.

    ( by the way it is not likely the cage fencing is 44 years old !  They look like add ons to the building, by maintenance )

  8. It’s about time!

    I've been following this issue closely as I have had one child graduate from Chute and one to attend this year.  The issue about the bars has been a long standing one and goes much deeper than just the kids feeling like they are in jail.  Obviously, that is the thing that caught the interest of the public, specifically the Trib…but I say, it's about time!  

    Why is it that Evanstonians (in general) have no problem spending millions on the needs of the north Evanston schools, but balk when it comes time to do the same elswhere???  Chute has not had a secure entrance to the building EVER!  The camera and buzzing system can only do so much; and, when the front office isn't anywhere near what is supposed to be the main entrance, how can you say that is efficient or safe??  

    Every year the folks at Chute have in one way or another advocated for the building of a new secured entrance and removal of the bars…from the SIT committee to the PTA to the staff and teachers and every year it has been overlooked.  So, if it took a write up by someone at the Trib and some noisy parents to finally have this become a priority, I say GREAT!!  

    Of course we would all rather have our tax dollars spent in the classroom on our kids.  That, to me, is a no brainer.  However, having as many buidlings as we do, there are bound to be improvements needed over the years.  And, understanding the difference in fund allocation is important.  We cannot use capital improvement money on teachers or salaries, so those people that continue to speak out of turn about spending that money on putting back staff that has been cut need to be better informed.

     I am all for not cutting staff AT ALL and would rather have more aids, support staff and teachers; however, I also am an advocate for ALL students, teachers, staff and parents having the right to be able to come and go from their school safely and feeling secure at all times during the day.

    Frankly, I think it was an architectural oversight not to have included a welcoming center/main entrance when the building was constructed.  The bars, to my understanding, were put up after initial construction when it was realized that (a) outsiders could enter the courtyard at any time day or night including homeless people that would find shelter there during the winter and (b) children needed to cut across the upstairs corridor of the courtyard to get to the other side of the school during the short passing periods wich required the outside doors to be left open at all times…yes, even in the dead of winter, blizzard or thunderstorm and NO COATS (think pneumonia alley at ETHS only with younger kids).  

    So, by eliminating this unusuable space and creating a main entrance that would also connect the top floor to the other side of the building (again, I think another glaring architectural oversight), several inherent design problems will be corrected at the same time as giving the families a school where the outside finally reflects what goes on inside!

    1. Not cutting staff

      I simply do not understand why community members, tax payers and parents don't support the idea of cutting fine arts staff and asking the remaining ones to step up and work the hours designated in their union negociated contract.  Under the new plan fine arts and PE teachers would be asked to teach about 23 hours a week instead of 20.  Yes I know that they do plenty of work outside of those 20/23 hours spent with students but that's the reality of this economy.  I don't know anyone gainfully employed who hasn't been asked to give a little more at work in the past few years.  And if this weren't reasonable, why did the union approve it in the first place?

  9. In these troubled economic

    In these troubled economic times, the removal of the bars vs creating new learning space is what the bottom line is. As important of an issue this is for Chute, funds spent for removal of the bars do not provide a significant benefit for the greater community.

    In the grand scheme of education, education interests should be held a top priority.

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