A 26-member committee named to generate ideas for solving Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s impending budget crunch got down to work Tuesday night.

Here’s a math problem:

The average public school teacher in Evanston makes about $60,000 a year. Add another 30 percent for benefits, and you’re talking nearly $80,000.

The annual budget of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 amounts to about $20,000 per student. Therefore, it takes about four students to pay a teacher’s salary.

But the average class size is about 25 students.

So, what are the other 21 students in the class, who represent a contribution of about $420,000 a year, paying for? And what can be done to put that ratio into a better balance?

That’s just one of the challenges awaiting the collective thinking of a 26-person ad hoc committee of Evanston citizens, including parents, teachers, and former school board members, appointed by Superintendent Hardy Murphy to generate ideas for the administration to avert a projected deficit in the district’s operating fund budget in the next four years.

Specifically, Murphy told the group at its first meeting Tuesday night that its charge was to develop strategies and recommendations for the next budget year (2012-2013) and to help plan for the long-term financial stability of the district.

The committee selected Mark Sloane, chief financial officer of a media management firm who was a member of the city’s budget review panel last year, as its chairman, and Richard Emrich, assistant treasurer of Northwestern University, as its vice chair.

Top: Commitee members assembled in the district’s board room. Above: District CFO Mary Brown and Committee Chair Mark Sloane.

At its initial meeting, the committee received an update on the budget from the district’s CFO, Mary Brown, and its comptroller, Kathy Zalewsky.

They noted that, although the district has approved a balanced budget in its operating fund for the past 10 years, it failed to meet that budget only in the 2009 fiscal year as a result of a sudden drop in revenues during the current recession. It ended last year with a $1.5 million surplus, beating the $1.2 million that was budgeted.

The tentative budget approved by the board for the current fiscal year calls for a surplus of about $900,000 on a $104 million budget. But with student enrollment expected to climb by about 600 for the rest of the decade, without significant offsetting revenue increases, the district is facing deficits of up to $9 million by the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The growing enrollment presents challenges in the capital budget as well, necessitating the addition of about 30 classrooms either by building a new school or by building additions to present schools that will cost an additional $25 million, plus additional amounts in the operating budget for teachers and administrators.

The committee Tuesday night discussed topics to cover at its remaining meetings, scheduled for Sept. 20, Oct. 4 and 18, and Nov. 1, 15, and 29. While the administration suggested focusing on expenditures, some committee members expressed a desire to look at revenues as well, perhaps with an eye to keeping a lid on property taxes, which amount to about  78 percent of district revenues.

The committee also asked the administration’s financial executives to provide benchmarking data that will help them compare district budget items with those of other districts in the area.

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. Mergers

    Could savings and/or synergies be found in administration, transportation, buildings, materials, etc. by merging Evanston/Skokie School District 65 with Evanston Township High School District 202?  Separate school districts for high school and elementary school systems seems idiosyncratic when compared with other regions of the country, and less efficient.

    What about merging D65 and/or D202 with other adjoining districts (e.g., elementary Districts 68, 69, 73, 73-5 or 74; secondary District 219)?

  2. District mergers

    The fly in the ointment is that the teacher unions will want a uniform pay scale. Naturally the highest pay scale will be taken as the norm. This will increase costs.

  3. Name plates?

    Am I seeing correctly – did they make name plates for each one of the committee members? Way to show fiscal responsibility, folks!

    1. Those name plates

      If you look closely you will see they are folded heavy paper. Easy — and cheap to print — with readily available free Avery software.

      1. Name plates redux

        Ok, Karl, I don't see how you can see closely enough from this photo to see how they were made. They don't look like folded heavy paper to me. But even if they are, somebody took the time to make them.

        Whether or not you think this committee is a good idea (I personally think it is another D65 committee designed to give the appearance of soliciting community input but really just rubber-stamping a decision already made by the superintendent), is it really a good use of a staff person's time to make these name plates? Couldn't people just write their names on pieces of paper? Or is that too low tech?

        I know it sounds trivial but it strikes me that this is just the sort of thing this committee should be looking at. Perhaps they could do a time and motion study of D65 administration employees to find out just how much time they spend handling the same pieces of paper or doing and re-doing data entry. How many employees are dedicated to the registration process each year? How much paper shuffling could be eliminated by streamlining that process?

        Maybe if D65 employees spent less creating Powerpoint presentations to show at board meetings, they'd have more time to devote to finding cost savings or closing achievement gaps.

        Just sayin'.

  4. Consolidation of D65 and D202 is the answer

    Pardon me if I seem a little confused.

    Only four years ago the D65 Finance Committee considered CLOSING DOWN a school because D65 enrollment had declined 11 percent in the past decade and 500 fewer students in the past five years!

    Four years later and voila, D65 enrollment is somehow bursting at the seams and a NEW Fifth Ward school they say is needed. Forget that the Fifth Ward population has significantly declined in the past few years.

    I have serious doubts about the accuracy of D65 enrollment projections. There is no way a new elementary school is necessary. D65 Board members must simply redistrict to balance out enrollment.


    This Citizen's Panel also should make it a No. 1 priority to get the ball rolling and consolidate D65 and D202. State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg told Evanston school advocates in July that the two school districts should consolidate. I don't expect Democrats Schoenberg, Gabel or Biss to use their political power to get the consolidation thing moving only because the unions would strongly oppose it. It's up to US to do it.


    You have the right to remain silent but in doing so it gives D65 activists and unions the right to ram through their expensive and unneeded projects. 

  5. Merge

    3.5 raise for Murphy, 1.25 for Witherspoon.   That's a 4.75% raise to superintendents from the community.  This while the City is trying to collect pennies off the street.

    And while everyone says that merging would require us to pay Kindergarten teachers the same as Chem Phys teachers (which I frankly don't believe), wouldn't it also provide the community with the opportunity to reframe the union deal completely?   Maybe delay tenure?   Maybe lengthen the school year or day?  It would also increase the chance that school board elections would be contested.   At the High School, this past election was the first contested election in well over a decade.   Maybe this town could better support one school board, versus two.

    Wouldn't there be more benefits  – other than consolidating costs and creating consistent goals and measurements –  from having to restructure the district?

    1. Jane, What is wrong with


      What is wrong with paying "Kindergarten teachers the same as Chem Phys teachers", if both are working the same school day, and have the same educational investment and experience?  What is your reasoning for valuing a HS teacher more that a K-8 teacher?  The HS teacher has, on average, less students, less teaching periods, less differentiation required in their curriculum, more mature students, and less discipline issues than the K-8 counterpart.  Elementary teachers get maybe 30 minutes break from their students each day, monitoring halls, lunchrooms, playgrounds and buslines, while many HS teachers teach only 4-5 periods out of 9, rarely venturing out of their classroom.  It is easy to cast blame on D65, (and K-8 teachers) for producing unequal products that are eventually filtered out into alternative programs at ETHS, (clearing the way for some fabulous leveled classroom experiences) but I would argue that their job is certainly as difficult, and important as our fabulous HS teachers, that we hold in such high esteem.  I'm no kindergarten teacher, but I might find their job far more difficult than stepping into a Chem Phys class full of eager college bound students.

      1. Pay scale

        You assume that the grammar school teacher has the same intellectual capital as the ChemPhys teacher. Most aspiring teachers are at the bottom end of scores entering college.

        1. Let’s assume that your claim

          Let's assume that your claim is true, and that every single high school teacher is smarter than every single K-8 teacher.  Does intellectual capital automatically turn someone into a dedicated and effective teacher worthy of higher pay? What if a 3rd grade teacher's students show higher growth than a 9th grade history teacher's students? Are there other jobs where I can flash my high ACT score and receive a higher salary? If so, I want one of those!


          1. D65’s track movement scale

            D65's track movement scale recently changed a few years ago, and is now based upon evaluation of performance; both teacher and student.  The problem is that no one has really come up with a good set of measures to accurately determine real student growth (in certain subjects), particularly when you are talking about the discrepancies that exist between different classrooms of students.  Many districts are moving towards teacher/student performance being a  significant part of the evaluation process. It will be interesting to see whether or not these new performance pay systems actually result in overall improved student performance and "college readiness."

  6. but I just escaped D65!

    I just escaped D65 and all of its craziness.  So far 202 seems fantastic (maybe I just haven't seen enough) but it has been a breath of fresh air, civility, and **gasp** efficiency.  Don't make me go back and have to deal with D65 again.  Please.  

    I am (kind of) kidding.  Maybe 202's work model would trickle down and that would be good, but if it worked the other way we would be making things worse.

    If they did it, there should be 3 asst. superintendents.  One for middle school.  that is where we are doing the worst, it seems to me.

    Ironically, I am delighted to have moved from a school that is making adequate yearly progress to one that is not.  Hmm.

  7. Anonymous – false objection

    Anonymous, I'm not arguing whether or not a Kindergarten teacher should make the same or more than a chem phys teacher – I'm saying it's a false objection.

    If indeed one main objection to merging districts is that teachers in D65 will have to get pay raises – I don't buy it.

    There are a number of districts with K-12 system – they make it work somehow.

    Merging school districts should to be looked at.   It should  be vetted in today's environment, not dismissed based on findings from some time long ago. 

    Which begs the question; when was the last studied done and what did the study reveal?   What has changed since then?




    1. Objection

      I agree the districts should be merged to at least get rid of the some of the administration overhead. If you are arguing that merging districts will save money, I think under present circumstances that will not happen, given the power of unions over the educational oligopoly. Pay schedules based on current criteria will not achieve cost saves or performance improvements. The real solution is vouchers, competing schools and performance based pay. Trying other approaches is better than what we have now.

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