Evanston’s Economic Development Committee this week told city staff to put together a formal proposal for how the city might help a planned Montessor high school open downtown.

Beacon’s head of school, Jeff Bell, listens as the board’s treasurer, Brian King, describes their plans.

Evanston’s Economic Development Committee this week told city staff to put together a formal proposal for how the city might help a planned Montessor high school open downtown.

In their initial request, Beacon Academy officials said they’d need a $650,000 loan guantee from city to be able to launch the school by fall 2014.

Jill Greer, vice president, and Danielle Loevy, president of Beacon’s board.

But Beacon’s board vice president, Jill Greer, told the committee Wednesday night that — as a result of their progress with fundraising — that the amount needed from the city would be substantially lower — probably in the range of $250,000 to $300,000.

And the school’s treasurer, Brian King, said that in conversations with the school’s bank he learned that the city would likely not have to actually put up the cash for the pledge, the city’s word would be good enough.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, voiced doubts about providing city financial support for the project. She said the city had not provided aid to Roycemore School for its recent move to a new location on Ridge Avenue. And she suggested that the city should focus its efforts on low-income students attending Evanston Township High School rather than on ones whose families could afford private school tuition.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she had no question about the importance of the project.

“My only concern is the risk involved,” Rainey said, adding that providing a loan guarantee isn’t the sort of assistance the city has provided to development projects in the past,

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, noted that the city has lost two educational instututions in recent years — National Louis University and Kendall College — and suggested that a new one could be a welcome addition.

She also recalled that the city had provided some assistance to the private Chiaravalle Montessori School.

Grover said she’s received one email from a resident questionning whether the city should be supporting a group that would provide competition to the public high school.

But Beacon’s head of school, Jeff Bell, responded that Beacon would be more directly competitive with private schools like Roycemore.

“We’re offering a small-school option, very different from a school like ETHS with 3,000 students,” Bell said.

And he suggested that Beacon would undercut other private schools on tuition.

“One of the reasons we’re trying to raise so much money privately is to make it more affordable,” he said.

The adverage independent school costs $26,000 in tuition a year, Bell added, “We’re south of $20,000.”

“It’s still not cheap, but with a competitive financial aid package it can be affordable to families of modest means.”

Bell said the school plans to open with 25 to 30 students in 9th and 10th grades next year and eventually grow to between 250 and 300 students.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he saw the Beacon proposal as a unique opportunity for economic development in the heart of downtown “that quite frankly could use it.”

He said that while office vacancy rates downtown are not high compared to nearby communities, there’s still a substantial amount of available space.

The committee directed city staff to put together a formal proposal for the project that it could discuss at an upcoming meeting.

Related story

Private school seeks city financial backing

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Beacon Academy

    I'd like to understand what will happen to this "investment" in 4 years when the Beacon student population is projected to be between 250-300 students.  I would think the site they are looking at in downtown Evanston would no longer serve their needs and they would need to move again to larger quarters somewhere.

    The info below is straight from the Beacon Academy website:

    "By 2017, Beacon Academy will be a full four-year secondary school with projected enrollment of 250-300 students. The school will be located near Northwestern University and public transportation, positioned to draw students from a wide radius and within easy access to partner institutions throughout the Chicago area."

    This appears to be a very short-term investment in economic development for the City of Evanston unless there is some guarantee from Beacon Academy that they will continue to be located in Evanston with their expected growth.  Their website seems to indicate that they will be "near" Northwestern, but I don't know how they can state what they do when they have not yet locked in on a site.

    1. Beacon Academy

      The leaders of the school said Wednesday night they intend to remain in Evanston long-term, but they acknowledged that they are only seeking a five year lease on either of the two properties they are considering renting — on the assumption that they will have to move to larger quarters as their student body expands.

      — Bill

  2. The City of Evanston is not a bank

    This is plain embarrassing.

    Our city officials are leaning toward financing with OUR tax dollars a private Montessori high school where the annual tuition is $20,000!! I bet if it were a Catholic or Jewish school the city would say no without having a hearing.

    Remember, the city refused to rezone the vacant Shure site on Hartrey so a non-profit Jewish day school could open there after purchasing the site. The school's then-president, Ari Shulman, testified in court that when he first told Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, of the school's plan to move to Evanston from it's location on California Avenue in Chicago, she told him to "keep your Jewish school on California." The judge criticized what she called "inapproriate and unprofessional references" to "un-kosher logic and "parting of the Red Sea" in an email message then zoning administrator Bill Dunkley sent Rainey about the school's request.

    Now, Autobarn wants to move to the Shure site with city financing thru sales tax rebates, property tax abatement and a TIF!!!!

    Evanston two years ago sold a nice chunk of land and the building that houses Chiaravalle Montessori School for about $1.2 million to Chiaravalle.

    Bars, restaurants, existing and profitable auto dealers and grocery stores and now expensive private high schools have come to Evanston for a handout. Hello aldermen, the City of Evanston is NOT a bank! What do existing business owners think when Evanston is bankrolling their competitors? 

    My taxes keep rising each year. How about giving property owners a break. Eh? They are afterall the ones who can vote you OUT of office!!

    Hey, not a bad idea. Except billionnaires with gender identity problems are financing aldermen (Tendam) and potential aldermen ($13,000 for Ed Tivador) for HIS benefit, ie. zoning changes for two bed and breakfasts and backroom discussions to purchase a lakefront mansion from the city in which audiotapes of the meeting were conveniently destroyed a week after a newspaper filed a freedom of information act to obtain them. BTW- Beacon also expressed interest in the lakefront mansion. Who knows, maybe this a ploy to eventually lease the mansion to Beacon.

    Don't forget, Jane Grover was right there front and center promoting a $28 million taxpayer funded Fifth Ward school that voters rejected.

    Who's looking out for the average taxpayer? 


    This is offensive on a thousand levels.  Want to go to private school, great.  Go for it.  But if this city has this kind of $$ it shoudl FIRST go to our public schools.  Jeez.  I can't believe anyone thinks this is a good idea.  

  4. Co-signer

    the City Manager and Evanstons Economic Development think this is a great Oppunity for the City of Evanston. It appears the only money the School has is from fundraisers. The Bank isn't and  so sure or they wouldn't be asking for a co-signer or someone to guarantee the loan.  Who is the school's bank?  Are the owners of the school putting up any of there own money?

    1. Funding

      As mentioned in the EDC meeting packet, the bank the school is working with is MB Financial.

      The school is a non-profit, so it doesn't have individual "owners."

      The school's board members told the committee they have raised $800,000 so far of a projected $2.5 million in initial costs. Much of the money, they say, has come from parents who have childern in Montessori elementary schools in the region — including members of the new school's board.

      — Bill

  5. No taxpayer subsidy for private school

    Don't understand why Evanston feels the need to offer tax breaks to the likes of Trader Joes and expensive private schools and the like, as if they are doing us the favor by locating themselves here.

    This city will be a goldmine for Trader Joes and there will surely be plenty of wealthy people who will spring for private school–our location is great for these businesses.

    And if they can't operate a private school without that initial capital infusion, do what private schools do: fundraise from your rich constituents but don't come digging into the public trough.

    You do not provide a public service but sell an elite product. Why should those of is who send our kids to public school subsidize such a thing?

    Taxpayer money should go to Evanstonians that need it, low income kids, the elderly, affordable housing. Play some hardball, Evanston! We have what these businesses want–access to this community.

    Public money for the public good!

  6. Beacon

    Not sure I understand the logic of using economic development dollars for a not for profit. Will tax dollars be increased? If the City wants to spend Economic Development Dollars, make it available to new businesses downtown for rent subsidies.  No problem with a private school, just adds to the diversity of Evanston.

  7. What’s in it for us?

    How does subsidizing a non-profit institution help the City of Evanston? They won't be paying taxes. Yes, they're paying rent, but it doesn't seem like they'll be paying enough to offset the money they are asking for from the City.

    Is this school going to keep Evanstonians from moving out of the City or going to encourage others to move in? If not, it's another City-funded boondoggle.

    What is the metric that the City uses to determine which projects to fund and which not to? It would be very helpful to exisiting and prospective businesses to find out exactly what they are looking for. Or do you just have to make it appeal to Ann Rainey and Jane Grover?

    What about the economic development that the City keeps talking about? Have the new economic development staff members even brought in enough money to cover their salaries? – How about that for an expose, Bill?

    1. What’s in it?

      So, here are the key things the Beacon Academy deal is claimed to offer "us" — based on what's in the packet for the EDC meeting (which you could read yourself for further detals).

      • New jobs in town. About four initially and 30 to 40 once full enrollment is reached.
      • Rent-paying tenant for now-vacant downtown commercial space. Perhaps around 18,000 square feet initially, more later.
      • Draws more business to downtown merchants from the ultimately 250 to 300 students and their parents — most of whom are anticipated to be people from surrounding communities.

      Then there are bunch of softer claimed benefits — including that the Montessori approach to education is said to stimulate independent thinking and entreprenurialism which could lead to more start-up busineses being created in Evanston and that it could attract more affluent people to town who are looking for that sort of educational opportunity for their children.

      The City Council set a precedent for providing financial assistance to non-profits renting space in downtown Evanston in May when it approved a $165,000 grant to the Music Institute of Chicago for its planned new offices and performance space in the basement of the Galleria building at 1702 Sherman Ave.


      Your broader question is extremely difficult to answer because it's hard to tell when economic development efforts simply facilitate deals that would have happened anyway and when they are the single "but for" factor without which a development would not have taken place.

      — Bill

      1. “We’ll create jobs” — but for whom?

        “We’ll create jobs” is a familiar refrain from entities seeking taxpayer-funded assistance, but we can’t afford to continue taking that statement at face value. Again, as I noted in my comment about the City’s proposed subsidy for the new FEW distillery, when “new jobs” are floated as part of the evaluation for assessing economic impact, the question that should be asked is how many of these new jobs will go to Evanston residents. If the jobs are created but filled by people who live elsewhere, then those new jobs do not directly benefit Evanstonians and do nothing to reduce our unemployment rate. (If the jobs are filled by folks from other cities, Evanston taxpayers will be paying to reduce the Chicago or Highland Park unemployment rate, which isn't a bad thing, but probably not what taxpayers here would choose to spend their money on.)

        Many of our own residents desperately need jobs. It is unclear how much, if at all, Evanston’s unemployed residents have benefitted from the loans and handouts the City has bestowed to businesses of late. If job creation for our own citizenry is the primary objective, taxpayer dollars would be put to better use by creating jobs directly – with, for instance, a year-round extension of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program. Perhaps there are other reasons to consider these subsidies – but please, let’s examine the “we’ll create jobs” claim with a bit more scrutiny.

  8. speechless

    The city is now thinking of subsidizing the rich who can afford $20,000 a year school tuition but can not "afford"  to  fudraise a quarter million to half million dollars.  Cry me a river.     Shame on you city council for even considering this.  

  9. Worthy of discussion

    They will take over a downtown space that has been vacant for what, decades?  Not a bad use, will be very supportive of downtown business, which does pay lots of taxes and create lots of jobs and need customers to do so.  As a small business owner downtown  I can support this for that reasoning alone.

    Ultimately, at 250 to 300 students a drop off and then a pick up means 500 daily visits downtown x 5 school days a week = 2500 weekly potential customer visits, basically 100,000 visits in a 9 month school year. 

    Of course people won't shop or eat every time but the potential benefit to tax generating business, their employees and ultimately taxpayers, is obvious.  We certainly see traffic generated by the Bright Horizons daycare, much better than a decades long vacancy. 

    The irony is that the city denies an extended stay hotel on Chicago ave, citing their preferred use for an office building, but both proposed spaces are really prime potential office building space.  I think the school is a fine use, but makes me wonder why the city is forestalling development by pushing the office development string on another property owner but have not been able to assist getting the Church Street property filled with an office tenant.

  10. Taxes

    As an Evanston homeowner who has sent children to public and private schools here in town, I see both sides of this tax issue.  Now that my children are in private school,  much as I would like to "opt out" of the portion of my tax bill that funds public education (about 50%), of course I can't.  I recognize that my tax money is spent on something that benefits the greater good of Evanston even though my family no longer personally reaps the benefits.  Bill was correct, I believe, in asserting that when it opens, Beacon Academy will bring jobs and potential business opportinities to Evanston, as well as increased foot traffic/spending from outside communities.  Given the City's past support of other non-profits, the precedent has been set for a win-win relationship.

    1. You don’t get both ways.

      That was your choice to move your children to a private school… you don't get to choose where your taxes are spent, so it is a moot point.  I assume you weighed your options for your children and thought private was in the best interest for your children's future.  But the bottom line is that a private school shoudn't ever be subsidized by government.  It is the wrong direction.

      It seems today our government somehow believes that private is better than public education (e.g. charter schools) and that is simply a poor decision that will affect our children in the long run.  ETHS is a top notch school and I am proud to send my child through 65 and 202.  I am not afraid that "competition" will destroy our  public school foundation, and if parents want choices, great, but government funds should not be allocated to help shore up a private school, period.

      If you don't like the cost of living in Evanston, which includes hefty property tax bills to pay for our top notch schools, then you also have the choice to live in another community that does not spend as much money on their educational system… and it will show in your child's educational experience.  You weighed that choice too, and chose Evanston.

    2. School vouchers is the answer

      Although I don't think Evanston should provide Beacon with a loan guarantee I do support a school voucher system in Illinois. 

      Public schools do not have true competition right now. Many parents would opt for private schools if they could afford it.

      D202 and D65 has some major problems right now and we all know it. D202 spends $20,000 per pupil. Is it worth it? Private high schools in the area are doing nicely because of the perceived and in many cases real problems at ETHS despite all the money pumped into the school system.

      We all know the Teacher's Union are in control of our public schools and their No. 1 concern is for teachers not the students. 

      School vouchers would give low-moderate income parents a choice of schools. But the unions control the Democrat party and thus the state's education policy since Democrats have been in control of Illinois for generations. The only way we will ever truly reform and improve the quality education for everyone is to vote for political candidates that are not Democrats.

      The reason unions do not want school vouchers is that because most private schools are NOT unionized.

      1. Al doesn’t get education

        "Public schools do not have true competition right now. Many parents would opt for private schools if they could afford it. 

        School vouchers would give low-moderate income parents a choice of schools."

        …privatization, voucher, competition…blah blah blah  …tax cut, Reagan, freedom…blah blah blah

        Al, we have a system of vouchers (Pell Grants, etc.) in place for higher education, and how's that working out?   The cost of college tuition has skyrocketed, students finish deep in debt, for-profit colleges are ripping off students and the government (through veterans' aid) with the support of the Republican party….and while a few students from the lower income classes make it to Harvard or Northwestern, these places mainly cater to the One Percent.

        The elite (and not so elite) private and even public colleges "compete" not by offering the best education, but by building giant fitness centers, glamorous dorms, gourmet dining, and sports.  The goal becomes to attract the wealthiest students to your institution by catering to them.

        And Al, haven't you heard the story of the college administrator who responded to student demands by saying "You are not the consumer, you are the product".  

        Now you want to do this for primary education?  What's next, Medicare?  ( Oh yeah….I forgot, Mittens wanted to replace Medicare with Vouchercare)

      2. School vouchers are never the answer

        if the question is "how do we best provide an education to all children".   Unless you would like to mandate that all private schools taking vouchers admit students on a lottery basis (like charter schools) then you will be taking funds away from the kids that need them the most – special education students.

      3. Doing nicely?

        Based on what measure can you claim that "private high schools in the area are doing nicely?"

        Seems like a bold comment with no backing.  Moreover, I would hope that students in private high schools would perform well, given that they at least have 1) a parent who was able to go and fill out the application, and 2) from a household that could afford it.  These two facts alone put them ahead of many students at ETHS before anybody even enters a classroom.

        ETHS is one of the top schools in the country, and you still moan and groan.  When will you stop? 

      4. School vouchers for everyone!


        Did you read the story? There are folks who want to open a Montessori high school in Evanston. Apparently, they think there is demand here for another private high school. Roycemore spent tons of money to open a new campus in downtown Evanston with space for many more students. There's some evidence for you to chew on. BTW- a school voucher system would allow kids from low-moderate income households to afford these private schools. But your precious little Teacher's Union won't allow it because they are afraid of competition from schools that are not unionized.


        Did you know there are private schools for kids with special education needs? What a concept, eh?

        First anonymous,

        I was talking about elementary and secondary public schools not colleges. You claim that colleges build "fancy giant fitness centers, glamorous dorms, gourmet dining" to attract "the wealthiest students." Well, did ya know that ETHS, the largest high school in America with 2 million square feet indoors, has a plantetarium greenhouse, two swimming pools, on-site nature center and day care center, 15 gymns, 18 tennis courts, a 1,500 seat auditorium and two other theaters. What private high school has this? 

        Right now, only the few with money get to choose where to send their kids to school.  To oppose school choice is to oppose equal opportunity for poor and disadvantaged students. It's that simple. 

        European countries, Chile, some Asian nations and several states in America all have school voucher systems. 

        A recent study show higher rates of graduation and attendance of four year colleges among students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) than public school students not enrolled in the program. Wisconsin lawmakers two months ago enacted legislation that allow school vouchers to go statewide. Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio all have expanded school vouchers programs.

        Numerous studies and all the evidence shows parents are happy with school vouchers but teacher unions are not. Who has more concern for the kids' education – parents or teacher unions? Hmmm? Tough one.

        Democrats in the Illinois senate in 2011 voted down a bill that would have given 30,000 underprivileged students stuck in failing Chicago Public Schools school vouchers and thus a choice. Those meanie Republicans wanted to give these poor inner city kids school choice. Why did Democrats reject the school voucher bill that would have given school choice to mostly minority students? It's because Democrat politicians care more about unions than poor folks because unions donate money to the Democratic party not poor people. Democrats receive almost 90 percent of all government union campaign donations.

        So if you're low income you have to ask yourself, who's looking out for you? 

  11. High school alternative welcome

    An alternative High School option would be so very welcome.   It's exactly the competition that ETHS needs.   They need some competition.   But even if they choose to continue NOT to provide this type of education to its students – at least there is a choice.  

    A Montessori based, progressive High School would be a different option than ETHS, NT, Loyola, NSCD….

    The classic model under NCLB doesn't serve every student (I'm not sure who it does serve, but that's a different conversation).

    I just hope it opens in time for one or two of my kids who just don't thrive in model the community currently offers.

    This would be great.

    Education is much better investment than signage at Chicken and Walffles. 

    Do it.

    1. I could not disagree more.

      I could not disagree more.  As a resident of Evanston of 41 years, ETHS is a top institution in the entire country… go ask ANY college recruiting office, and they will tell you how well prepared ETHS students are for college.  If there wants to be a competitive school in Evanston, like Roycemore, great, but they can do it on their dime… just like Roycemore.

      The city does not need to "invest" in more ventures, especially a non-profit organization that does not bring in revenue for the city. It may fill in a vacancy downtown (which profits the private owner of the building, not the city), but so what, that is what the market is for.  Evanston needs to invest their resources in the city to keep it an attractive place to live and raise children so they can go to some of the greatest public schools in the country.

      1. You make a good point

        There is a big difference between the city financially helping a business that will produce tax revenue and one that is tax exempt.  We have enough tax exempt already.

    2. Private H.S.

      Alex     Nothing stops you from sending you children to private schools now.  Adding a High School in downtown Evanston would cause nothing but additional traffic problems and encourage people to stay away.

  12. Beacon Academy

    It would be great to have a new high school option in town. However, if the city council decides to provide financial assistance to Beacon I hope we will hear no more complaining from them about District 65 not putting up funds for crossing guards. 

  13. This is nuts

    I don't support the city loaning/granting money to any private enterprises, but this proposal is particularly aggregious. My property taxes have DOUBLED over the last 10 years. Painful, but at least I have the comfort of knowing that money is going toward good schools.

    But this? Seriously? It's downright insulting.

  14. Point of order: it’s a guarantee, not a loan

    There have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions here.  Just wanted to point out that what's being requested is a guarantee and not a loan.  So, there will be no initial outlay of money.  The city will need to reserve capital against this obligation, but assuming the loan is repaid on a timely basis, the city's exposure should decline accordingly and there may likely not be any funds expended by the city.

    Also, I don't understand the "competition" with ETHS argument.  If an Evanston family sends their child to Beacon, that family is still paying property taxes (assuming the family owns a home) that funds ETHS.  There is no loss to ETHS – but rather a gain.  ETHS gets the funds but doesn't have to educate the child.

    Roycemore should be the one vehemently fighting this since the school will be in direct competition.

    1. No “free lunch”

      As many economists will say, "there is no free lunch." Meaning that superficially there might not be a direct cost, but indirectly there is a significant potential cost. Before City Council proceeds, this loan guarantee needs to be fully understood and communicated to the people in Evanston.

      Loan guarantees can be structured in many, many different ways and each unique structure carries different risk. Beacon Academy is seeking this loan guarantee from the City of Evanston since Evanston has a balance sheet to use. But what is the "real risk" to Evanston and what is the "real benefit" to Evanston?

      Right now, I don't know the answers to those questions, but we need to find out, and fully understand and fully think through these issues BEFORE a decision is made.

  15. Revenue lost if approved

    Has anyone considered the parking and sales tax revenue that would be lost? Parking is usually not allowed around schools on school days. Since parking will be lost, people will stay away. Thus sales tax and restaurant tax revenue will be lost. 

    1. Revenue increased if approved

      Simple, don't curb parking around this school at any time, it's a downtown location after all.  

      And actually, all those extra people coming downtown everyday only means extra sales tax revenue for the city and more customers for local business, not less.

  16. Private school should not be receipient of loan or guarantee

    I am an Evanston resident since 1999.  My daughter attends a private school and I would never support her school requesting or receiving financial support from the Village of Winnetka.  I speak for all private schools when I say spend the tax dollars on the public schools – tuition will fund private schools without public assistance to "buy down" the cost of the tuition.

     The City of Evanston should not use Chiaravalle as precedent for lending financial support to Beacon.  The Beacon people are many of the same Chiaravalle people that came to the City with their hand out looking for some tax payer money in 2008.

    If the City is seriously entertaining a small, private alternative secondary school as a form of ecomonic development in the business center, then they have lost their minds and need to lose their jobs with the City. 

  17. I’m surprised

    Ok, if I understand this right, Beacon Academy is going to be a brand new school. I don't understand how people could know how high the quality of the school will be or how popular it will be if it doesn't exist yet and has no track record. All Montessori Schools are not the same.

    It is strange to me that the school as described probably would not have physical education facilities, fields, etc. What are they planning for P.E. and sports teams, assuming those are planned? Will it be an open campus (students leaving the building for lunch)? Has there been a lot of interest among Evanston families in a Montessori high school, or is this an "if you build it, they will come" situation?

    If the people behind this school think students from all over the Chicago will want to enroll, why does it need to be in Evanston? Is it ultimately going result in any loss of tax revenue or in more property taken off the tax rolls? I think all short-term and long-term costs need to be explained. In my opinion, the City of Evanston has no business underwriting a private school launch such as this.

  18.  A school in downtown

     A school in downtown Evanston? Great location!  If I were a HS kid getting to class,  I'd take the CTA or ride my bike. (Who'd want to drive around in Evanston, anyway? I've worked in Evanston for years and it's always been a pain. Even without the current construction.) 

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