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Evanston/Skokie School District 65 officials have recommended a system for saving money, beginning with next year’s budget, by increasing maximum class sizes by up to five students if April’s $14.5 million operating referendum should fail to win voter approval.

The increases would come over a two-year period. In the first year, the average class size would increase by three, while the following year, classes would be five students greater than current guidelines would permit.

The plan was introduced Monday night to the Policy Committee of the district’s Board of Education by the district’s research director, Peter Godard.

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The referendum is on the ballot for the April 4 city and school board election, but Superintendent Paul Goren said he is hopeful that the board will approve the recommendation at a March meeting as a contingency measure, just in case the referendum should fail.

The savings would come from hiring fewer teachers and teaching assistants the next two budget years. Godard said the plan is expected to result in a reduction of seven class sections and a savings of $560,000 the first year, followed by a reduction of an additional 10 sections and a savings of an additional $800,000 the following year.

He cautioned that the estimates of savings are contingent on changes in enrollment matching the administration’s estimates

The new guidelines would result in maximum class sizes ranging from 28 at the kindergarten level up to 32 at the fourth and fifth grades. If a class should exceed the guidelines by two or more students, the district would allocate additional teachers or teachers’ aids, Godard said.

The plan that was recommended, which the administration calls a Limited School Choice program, would offer families the opportunity to apply for magnet schools, magnet programs, or permissive transfers, which would help the district to allocate students among schools.

It was considered less disruptive than two other alternatives—an Open Enrollment Policy and a Cap and Transfer Policy.

Under Open Enrollment, families would rank district schools based on personal preference during kindergarten and new student registration. Students would be assigned to schools in a manner that allows the greatest number of families to enroll in their first choice while maintaining balanced classroom sizes throughout the district.

Priority for enrollment in a school of choice would be given to children with siblings already enrolled at the school and children that live within the attendance area. To implement an Open Enrollment policy would require an investment in sophisticated, customized software, Godard said.

Under a Cap and Transfer Policy, Godard explained, the majority of students would attend their neighborhood school, but once a maximum class size is met, additional students would be prohibited from registering at that school.

This alternative was rejected, Godard said, because it would penalize late-registering students, who tend to be more likely black or Hispanic and more likely to be homeless, English learners, or from low-income families.

“As a result,” he wrote in an accompanying memo, “a cap and transfer policy would disproportionately affect populations who we are intentionally trying to provide with better opportunities.”

After explalning their recommendation to the committee, Godard and Goren emphasized that the changes would not be implemented if the referendum should be approved, but it was part of their contingency plan that would require a number of changes within a brief period of time if the referendum should fail.

Goren said the class size guidelines should be on the agenda for consideration by the full board at its March 20 meeting.

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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17 Comments

  1. Baloney

    Baloney. Knock retirees off health care and/or raise the deductibles for everyone. Funding issue solved. Don’t look to the taxpayers to bail you out.

    1. You said it — the double talk makes the pitch not credible

      The D65 administrators have trotted out the parade of horribles–closing a school, combining grade levels into one classroom, eliminating band in 4th and 5th grade, etc.

      But let’s examine what the superintendent has said about the reason for millions more in tax dollars from this referendum:

      “District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren argued at the meeting that the projected referendum revenue of $113.2 million will support further educational investment, allowing the district to continue to support talent, strengthen core curriculum and decrease class sizes, among many listed goals.”

      The Daily Northwestern, January 11, 2017.  https://dailynorthwestern.com/2017/01/11/city/district-65-board-votes-to-put-property-tax-referendum-on-april-ballot/

      Let’s look at one aspect of the superintendent’s wish list–decreased class sizes. Where is the well-reasoned argument that this is a need now? 

      According to the D65 website’s Quick Facts, the average class size is 21.  http://www.district65.net/Domain/75

      Here’s the link to the 2016-17 Opening of School’s Report.  Smallest K-5 class appears to be 11 with the single largest class around 27. Most classrooms average in the 18-23 range. https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=39657794

      I have not seen any well-supported argument that D65 needs smaller class sizes now. Has D65 considered a reallocation of resources so teachers can be deployed to those schools with a greater number of students? 

      The D65 administration chose to ask for what they want but they failed to provide well-supported facts as to why these wants should be satisfied. Instead, they should have focused on what they need to avoid classroom-centered cuts.

      Given this double talk and the accompanying scare tactics, I cannot support this referendum. Every government entity needs to justify each request for a tax increase. D65 failed to do that here. Many local families cannot afford their own needs. They especially should not be expected to pay more for D65’s wants.

  2. Music

    Instrumental music instruction (Band and Orchestra) is also set to be rolled back if the referendum doesn’t pass. Instruction will cease in 4th and 5th grades and all current directors will be fired.

    1. ACC Classes

      What will happen with the ACC classes at Oakton that they can barely fill? Will those continue at classes of 12 students some a few less/some more, while other classes around the district will see student numbers from 25-30? Not fair for the kids nor the teachers.

  3. A $14.5 million school referendum? NO!!!!

    Referendum supporters are passing around flyers and holding meetings suggesting that if the $14.5 million school referendum fails schools will close. No school will close if the referendum fails. It’s a scare tactic.

    My kids attended D65 and for years the class size was 1-2 students away from the state class size limit. D65 can NOT exceed state limit class sizes. 

    Anyone notice that D65 REFUSES to state how exactly the $14.5 million will be spent if passed. 

    D65 just gave the Teacher’s Union a decent pay hike in contract negotiations. Now D65 wants more EZ money from hard hit property owners.

    Sorry, our taxes are already too high. Property values are stable but stagnant but taxes just keep rising especially this year.

    Budget problems? Lay off administrators and consolidate D65 and D202. 

     

  4. Why cuts without budget cuts?

    If I understand correctly, year-over-year spending wouldn’t decline without the referendum.  If that’s the case, where is the money (that would have otherwise been used to pay the teachers) going?  When anyone pitches fear first (such as firing people), there’s something (or things) we aren’t being told.  Sorry…

    1. Referendum vs. larger class sizes

      I agree with F.A.  Wouldn’t it be nice if instead D65 Admin. and Board said: “If the referendum fails we may have to make cuts in areas such as administration, outside consultants etc. in order to protect the frontline of education – the classroom (i.e. no larger class sizes).” Suh fear mongering is corrupt. And that, in itself, should tell Evanston taxpayers that there are serious issues that need to be addressed with the D65 leadership. 

    2. D65 has approved spending on PEG

      Despite the budget crisis, District 65 has hired the Pacific Education Group to conduct “Beyond Diversity” training for staff and board to be completed by 2019.  According to the board president, “this is part of a framework of trainings that will be important to identify and eliminate institutional barriers that perpetuate racial predictability of academic and social/emotional outcomes in our schools.”  With regard to the impact on the referendum, the board president said: “The budget we have for equity training writ large equals 2% of the referendum ask or 0.3% of the districts overall budget. We believe that we will proactively address the achievement gap by coupling our keen focus on instructional improvement with equity training, improving hiring practices, and our focus on literacy and reading.”

      I am all in favor of instructional improvement and focusing on literacy and reading.  But any money spent on PEG is does not further those goals.  To the contrary, I believe that PEG’s rigid ideology  undermines those goals.  This is a time for tough choices and D65 made the wrong decision by engaging PEG. 

      1. PEG

        Yes, much money has been spent in both districts on PEG. The question that needs to be asked is how is all this money (and it’s a lot)  spent on flying administrators, board members and some teachers around the country to attend PEG conferences, and to the overall funding of PEG in our schools, how is this trickling down to  our classrooms and to actually assisting our minority and low income students?  Why are we not investing such large amounts money into the frontline of directly assisting our low income minoriy students? For example, at the h.s. level, by having more college career counselors to assist those first generation students with getting into college? We should not be relying on some not-for-profit organization that reaches just a handful of kids. Instead, our tax dollar,s should ensure such an important service is systematically provided to these students.  I could go on. That’s just one example of how such money could be spent that would directly impact the population that PEG purports to be interested in. Does PEG purport to be “serving” these students, whom exactly is PEG serving ultimately? Institutional racism absolutely must be addressed and eliminated.  The school budget is a moral document.  Our representatives must ensure that tax dollars are spent in an effective and meaningful way that has a positive imoact on  the MSA gap,  and actually delivers the product to our low income and minority students.

        1. Evanston schools should have the answers, not questions

          Evanston brags as being and having been for generations one of the most integrated community and at least high school. We also have NU experts who I assume advise the city and schools.

          Why then are not the city and especially school teachers/leaders the experts that other schools call in to tell them how to run their schools and provide equal education to all ? Instead not only do the schools not use/trust themselves, NU or consultants in Evanston or greater Chicago, but they have to find ‘experts’ from other states.  If our schools are so bad, maybe we need to clean house from the Superintents down to the teacher level, and bring in those who can meet the ‘standard.’

           

  5. Consequences

    Over the lasrt 10 years the district has welcomed 1500 new students.  The cost to educate these students to the standards we enjoy in the North Shore is $20 Million annually.  Without the referendum passing, the district is facing a cumulative structural deficit of $112 Million over the next 8 years.  The administration has already made $11 Million worth of cuts.  There’s not a lot of fat left to cut and we are left with nowhere else to go for funding.  This situation is not unique to Evanston.  In the last 2 years, Homewood, Wilmette, and Oak Park have all passed referenda to raise taxes to pay for their public schools.  The problem is that Illinois is the WORST state in the country for funding public education.  The choice we all have to make is to either fund our schools ourselves or watch Evanston schools become less desirable than those in neighboring communities.  

    1. Who can afford more property taxes here?

      How can we fall for this nonsense from another school board here in Cook County.  Our State REFUSES to fulfill their Constitutional requirement to fund K-12 education,  Illinois is constantly 1st or 2nd in dependence on local property taxes to fund education.  70% of our property tax bills already go to education and the Disttrict wants more?  NO WAY!!!  Force your State reps and Senators to increase school funding for ALL districts across the State.  Evanston is not Winnetka or Wilmette and using the most regressive form of funding for schools in unfair to the majority of Evanston residents who CANNOT afford to pay more.  Our tax rate is over 10% which means for a $500,000.00 house you already pay more than Winnetka or Wilmette for the same valued house.  Their tax rates are BELOW 7%. So please don’t compare the ability to absorb more property taxes here as to other communities on the North Shore.

       

  6. What’s new this time?

    However, I notice over the last 20+ years, with tax ineases over tax increases, minority children and children of poverty have not seen gains in test scores parallel to those of whites.  So what’s new this time?

  7. Referendum tax increase
    As someone who is retired with a public pension, I’m so glad nobody’s talking about how most of the money is going to us.

  8. Another call for money—but what about a review first ?

    How well are the schools spending the money they have ?

    Salary/benefits and number of teachers vrs. administration ?

    Spending and results on core education—math, science, literature and history esp. American but also world, language, history—and accountability for not reaching goals. It may be hard to determine which teacher(s) are responsible for a particular student failing [i.e. some teachers may be great but in general the teaching staff fails] but it should be much clearer who  in administration from assistant principals [why assistants even needed?] to superintendent.  Instead they keep getting raises and contracts extended. When was the last termination.

    Spending on arts. Are the programs designed to provide a lot of money to a few students or give a good basis for ALL students–all get some involvement in music, drama.  The same goes for physical educattion and sports—are ALL students give oppportunities [e.g. to be on a team] or is a substantial amount of spending going for football, basketball teams and competition ?

    Before asking taxpayers for more money, they should look inward.

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