A proposal for the City of Evanston to give a forgivable $25,000 to a private trade school is on hold after coming under fire from public school officials.

Last November the city’s Economic Development Committee recommended that the City Council approve the loan to help the startup Career Institute LLC rehab vacant office space at 990 Grove St. for classrooms and offices.

Monday night Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and School Board President Gretchen Livingston criticized the proposed city aid to the private, for-profit school.

This afternoon, Paul Zalmezak of the city’s economic development staff said the loan plan is on hold and won’t be going before the City Council for approval unless the school’s organizers can build support for it in the community.

At the school board meeting, Livingston said similar pharmacy technician programs are already available through the high school and through Oakton Community College.

And Witherspoon said that nationally private career schools have a poor track record.

In 2012, a federal study sharply criticized for-profit post-secondary schools for high tuition rates and poor records of placing students in jobs.

Oakton’s pharmacy technician program, offered at its Des Plaines campus, reportedly costs students about $1,000, while Career Institute co-owner Shalom Klein told the EDC last fall its tuition would likely be between $8,000 and $9,000.

In an interview today, Klein said the cost for a program equivalent to Oakton’s would actually be $2,000 to $3,000 and that the higher figure he mentioned last fall was for a more extensive training program.

Klein says that based on his connections with employers, he’s convinced he can achieve far higher placement rates than OCC does for its program.

“We’re talking with a number of companies around the Evanston area that have never employed anybody from Oakton and who don’t believe their students have the needed skills,” Klein said.

Klein said he was committed to a scholarship program for Evanston students that would be equivalent to the amount of aid he was seeking from the city.

“We were courted to Evanston” by city officials, Klein said. If the agreement doesn’t come through, “we’ll be very disappointed and disenchanted, but we’re moving forward.”

Zalmezak said the city was looking at the project as another tool for economic development helping fill long-vacant space in a downtown office building, but “the community spoke and we heard some strong opinions.”

Zalmezak noted that some proprietary schools. like Pivot Point International, have had a long track record in Evanston and have developed a highly favorable reputaton.

“But Shalom is a new player, and will have to prove himself over time,” Zalmezak added.

He said he believed the Career Institute project can move forward without the city’s aid, but without the help it may end up locating in Skokie or Niles, where Klein has a longer track record of community involvement.

Related story

Panel backs city aid to trade school

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. I agree with

    I agree with
     Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and School Board President Gretchen Livingston the City should NOT give additional tax payer dollars to a for profit school. I already pay approx 70% of my property taxes to Schools. I don't think we need to increase that amount no matter how small so we can fund a for profit school.

  2. Something doesn’t smell right in the People’s Republic

    I don't support this loan but the way it was taken off the table concerns me.

    Paul Zalmezak of the city's economic development staff at first supported this loan and now doesn't because "the community spoke."

    What community? D202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and D202 Board member Gretchen Livingston? Their interests are public schools, which would be in competition with this proposed private school. 

    For perspective, the city granted a $200,000 loan to a Chicken & Waffle restaurant, a $100,000 grant to a Howard Street wine bar and is considering a $250,000 loan guarantee for a private Montessori high school. But a $25,000 loan to a private trade school is shot down?

    What's going on here?

    1. What’s going on?

      Hi Al,

      What's going on is that the staff no longer believes the votes are there on City Council to win approval for the loan.

      If an alderman disagrees with that conclusion, I'm sure that alderman could get the proposal brought up for a vote.

      But if you think the project is a good idea, isn't it better to have it held back while the proponents try to drum up support, rather than brought up for a vote and defeated?

      BTW, the Montessori high school decided to drop its request for financial assistance from the city. It's moving forward without it.

      As the New York Times article linked from the story mentions, there is something of a partisan divide nationally about the merits of private, for-profit schools. You probably would not be mistaken to see some impact of that on decisionmaking locally.

      — Bill

  3. Look for verification

    If both Oakton and 202 have programs, then I'm sure they can supply detailed information about how many students they have attracted into those programs and how effective they have been in placing those students into relevant employment.

    The point isn't whether they have a program, the point is whether the program they have has any real world value.  Career Institute is claiming the schools have failed in their programs and they can do better.

    As for Career Institute, they should be willing to verify their claim that local employers are not hiring local Oakton or 202 students because they are underqualified and how their program will make a difference.  If they achieve those goals within a set timeframe, 25K is forgiven, don't achieve, 25K has a scheduled payback, with interest.

    Base the 25K on that, not siding on who in the "community" whines the loudest and longest, which too often is Evanstons modus operandi.


    1. Personel Check

      Anonymous: I am quite sure they will accept you CERTIFIED PERSONAL Check for $25,000.00 or more. Give them a call.Spend your own money. Mine should goto the public taxpayer funded school system.  Taxpayers shouldn't be financing PRIVATE COMPANIES.

      1. Question is

        The question is, should the taxpayer be funding either program, especially if they are not considered qualified.

      2. Blind spending?

        I give the school districts well over 25K of my money every year through r.e. taxes, and quite frankly, I, and the students, oftentimes don't get the results we should be receiving for the money spent.

        Maybe the difference between you and I is that I don't like to blindly continue funding something unless that program can quantify results, justification in how they are spending MY money.

        If the school system can't quantify and prove their doing the job with this program, our collective  25K+++ is being wasted.  If the private company can do the job better, I'd rather they get my 25K, and it can come directly from the school districts funding for that program.

        If the private company does show better results, then the money we give to the school districts should be taken back and used as voucher assistance to those who wish to enter the private program.  If the private company cannot show results, the loan can be structured to pay us back the 25K loan.

        Accountability, when was the last time the shcool district ever paid you back for money poorly spent, for not meeting, or even having performance metrics, for program failure?  Name one single time.

        If the schools can show their program works, bravo, no loan needed.  If not, give me MY money back, set performance metrics and lets see what the private company can do.  If the district can't justify, feel free to let them continue wasting your money without question, but I demand more.

        Public-Private, results are what is important, and dollars spent with no results is inexcusable.  Since it's the district thats opening their mouths with objections, let them show us their results.  Show us local job placements.  Honestly, I hope they can.  But what if they can't?  We have to protect their program and  keep feeding them my cash anyway, simply because they started complaining?

      3. Then why has the Council been funding private companies

        From funding [moore like a gift] to Trader Joes, Chicken and Waffel, bars, awnings/fences and on and on the Council has been picking their "winners" and leaving the taxpayers with the bills.

        If any venture would deserve [and I don't know the background on this group] educational institutions would be at the top of the list. But then they won't get the Council the union votes.

        1. Funding

          I agree sometimes they make questionable investments on some of the smaller investments like waffle houses.  Arguments can be made in favor, but they can be borderline.   

          But things like Trader Joes, Gordons, those investments will bring the taxpayer long-lasting returns. Those investments aren't "funding" the companies, they are making an investment in economic development that will show very large returns to the taxpayer. The taxpayer is not left with any "bills", the taxpayer is left with multiple, highly improved cash streams that will last a long time and deliver many more dollars than the original investments. Actually, pretty simple math.

          A fair argument can certainly be made for, or against, funding this group under economic development terms.

          But when the districts step up and complain, well, why are they complaining? Do they feel threatened? Could it be they are not fulfilling their mission, that somebody else will come in and prove them to be poor performers, making them irrelevant, threatening their budgets

          I find it interesting they are so worried over a little 25K loan, how many multiples of 25K do they cost the taxpayer for the same program? Really, how have they performed with those big buckets of our money and why do they feel so entitled to it?

          Yes, many large multi-program for-profit schools have done poor jobs, but many small & single focused, what I will call specific program trade schools, have done very well by their students. If they can do a better job, only cost taxpayers 25K, why not cut that program from Oakton, et al., and save us taxpayers many, many multiples of 25K each and every year?

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