Participants in today's District 65 Finance Committee meeting.

Potentially painful budget cuts will be on the table as Evanston/Skokie School District 65 figures out how to cut $10 million from its budget over the next three years.

During a special Board of Education Finance Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, Board members discussed various options, most of which include job reductions.

The cause of the problem is simple. District 65’s costs are increasing faster than revenues. The situation is challenging, as layoffs and program reductions are never popular. Staff costs, salaries and benefits, account for 80% of the district’s expenses. This school year’s budget is approximately $139 million.

Finance Committee Chair Joey Hailpern said “people aren’t going to like many of the ideas. We have to do it now for the children. If we don’t do it now it’s going to get worse.”

Superintendent Devon Horton has already called for cuts of “upwards of $1 million” for the next school year. The Board will look at additional cuts in further years as well.

No decisions were made at this meeting. Over the next few months, there will be a variety of public input opportunities, so parents and non-parent taxpayers will be able to make suggestions.

By March, the district will have to notify employees of Reductions in Force (RIF), which translates into job cuts. Superintendent Horton said “we need to right- size to fit our finances.”

Among the possibilities suggested were:

  • Increasing class size.
  • Staggered start times for District 65 schools, for a more efficient use of school buses.
  • Cutting administrative positions, including assistant principals.

One major concern is not using up the operating referendum dollars approved by the voters in 2017. Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi said doing that would be “catastrophic,” as it would wipe out the district’s financial cushion for unexpected costs. There is currently $30 million in that fund.

Obafemi likened the current situation to a car racing a train to a grade crossing. “A train is coming at you and you keep going,” he said. “The train is going to get the best of you.”

That train is the increasing cost of running the district, which the current COVID-19 pandemic has only made worse.

“We need to be ready for a rainy day,” said Superintendent Horton. “This has been a rainy year.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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