The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board inched ahead Monday night on plans to build a new school in the central core of the 5th Ward to help alleviate growing enrollments.
At a working board meeting, which is reserved for discussion—not vote-taking—on major issues, the board met until nearly midnight with its New School/Referendum Committee to discuss its recommendation for a neighborhood school for grades kindergarten through eighth grade in an area formerly served by the Foster School that was closed in 1967 in a voluntary effort to integrate Evanston schools through busing.
Although a vote was not taken, Board members agreed to receive the report formally at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 26 and gave Superintendent Hardy Murphy a green light to begin scouting a five-acre piece of land on which to place a state-of-the-art institution.
Top: New school committee members present their report. Above: Spectators at the board meeting.
An estimated 50 people turned out for the meeting and registered with their applause their approval of the committee’s recommendation. While board members were measured in their response, they tended to agree that a new school was preferable to a “piece-meal” approach of continuing to make additions to existing facilities.
The proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room was an assumption that it would be a herculean task to persuade enough voters to approve a referendum, which their legal counsel said was required under Illinois code when a district builds a new school from scratch.
The counsel, Lynda Given, a public finance specialist with Chapman & Cutler LLC, said there was a “loophole” in the law, however, that might give the board the opportunity to proceed without a referendum.
The procedure would involve the district entering into a lease arrangement with a private entity, which she referred to as a “straw person,” that would actually hold title to the building, even though the district might borrow funds to do the construction.
Lease payments would then be made from the district’s Debt Service Extension Base, described as a mechanism established in the Illinois School Code whereby the board can issue bonds without referendum to fund capital improvements.
While Given answered board members’ questions about the financing tactic, they gave no indication whether they would consider it as a way to circumvent the referendum requirement.
Meanwhile, representatives of the 5th Ward on the committee and in the audience pleaded with the board to build the school now and worry about the niceties of redistricting later.
Committee member Lloyd Shepard said, “We’re talking about a school that’s going to have 600-700 kids in it. Okay, 600-700 kids are bused out of the 5th Ward every day, and they’ve been doing that for 40 years. So my question is: Why can’t you build a school there to stop those kids from having to leave their neighborhood, once and for all, and then see what kind of situation you’re in after that. So what if you have to redistrict a little? What’s wrong with that?”
New board member Richard Rykhus noted that when he ran for the board earlier this year, he said he supported “in theory” a school in the 5th Ward, although he said he is presently undecided. “I’m waiting for the discussion and the data that will follow this discussion to lead me to the decision that I personally will make.”
He warned, however, that opponents of the new school “need to be open to having the district look at things like redistricting or increasing class size or adding on classrooms to your existing building that might cause some challenges at your school.”
At the outset of the meeting, Board President Katie Bailey issued a statement in reaction to the Board’s action on August 22 that increased the compensation of Superintendent Hardy Murphy. “The board strives for a higher level of transparency and engagement,” she said, in light of criticism that a weekend addition to the agenda did not give the public sufficient time to comment.
Bailey promised to have the board’s Policy Committee, headed by Tracy Quattrocki, review its notification policies “and work to ensure that members of the public whenever possible are informed in advance of upcoming agenda items.”
The district moving ahead
The district moving ahead with this is one of the most fiscally irresponsible things I've heard of in a long time. A new school in this economic climate? Where are the taxpayers supposed to get the money to pay the increase in their taxes? Unbelievable that we are even talking about this……
Safe, Ready, and Respectful
District 65's student motto is "Safe, Ready, and Respectful."
It is not financially Safe to take on new debt and permanently increase maintenance costs now. Wait until this economic crisis has passed. Wait until Evanston homeowners and businesses have paid down the City of Evanston deficit.
King Lab is Ready to be the neighborhood school for these students now. Why is District 65 determined to ignore this intermediate step? Why is District 65 willing to let these students wait while King Lab is ready now?
Skirting the referendum law is not Respectful to the citizens and taxpayers of Evanston. Lawyers do not make backroom deals to evade existing law in Evanston. Trust the citizens to choose what is best for their community.
District 65 should hold itself to the same guiding principles it requires of its students.
Agree, agree, and agree!
So very well put. Thank you! As a 2nd ward resident with 2 in d65 and one in 202, I still don't understand how just 4 years ago we were discussing closing a school. Why should I trust these new predictions?? And this is a solution that's not easily undone. Take back King Lab! AND redistrict! AND increase the classroom sizes! And then hello!! talk of finding a loophole to fund this is a CLEAR indicator that the public is not in favor. How completely distasteful and disappointing to pursue such a path.
Building a new school
It appears that the decision being pushed to build a new school shows that the board is deficient in economic and governmental responsibility. It demonstrates that they must be products of D65.
Wondering if the comment’s authors understand the issue
The main reason for the new school is to offer ALL of Evanston's children the CHOICE of a neighborhood school. The ancillary benefit is that there is currently overcrowding at several schools, and a prediction of more students each year. First and foremost, this school will offer students of color the same opportunity that white students enjoy–the option to walk to school and a PTA that is generated from their own neighbors.
STUDENTS OF COLOR HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO RIDE A BUS TO SCHOOL EACH DAY–TO THE TUNE OF 500-700 CHILDREN.
This is a travesty, an injustice, and unfair! Additionally, it is possibly a racialized paradigm that the city of Evanston has the opportunity to correct with bold leadership and citizenry.
Every ‘neighborhood’ school has children who are bused….
And they are not all coming from the 5th ward. South East Evanston kids are bussed to Lincoln. My West Evanston kids are bused to Walker. I'm in the 2nd ward. That's my neighborhood school…. 1.5 miles away. Washington is 1 mile away. Dawes is 1.2 miles…
There will always be kids who live at the edge of a district school border who's assigned neighborhood school is farther away than the closest district school. Check the district Map. Don't you think some re-districting should be considered FIRST?? I agree the Willard "island" is a little messed up…but It's not just the absence of a building in the center of the city that's at issue here. And I don't trust the district's attendance / enrollment projections. Not all people of color live in the 5th ward either.. What about the 2nd ward? The 8th and 9th wards?
I agree – we should redistrict and allow King Lab to be a neighborhood school. Frankly – no ward has a school. But King Lab would allow a neighborhood school for many of the advocates – I won't say families or children, since the survey showed that they were primarily happy.
Maybe Herb Sorock is OUR loophole
So the D65 School Board just gave Superintendent Hardy Murphy a pay raise without sufficient public notice and now gives him the green light to search for land to build a state-of-the-art institution in an area with population decline.
To add salt to the injury, our wise D65 Board is looking for a "LOOPHOLE" to prevent citizens from voting on a new school referendum that will cost taxpayrs tens of millions of dollars! The D65 Board is telling Evanstonians to shut up, sit down and pay your tax increases, we know better than you.
Why in the world don't D65 Board members understand that ALL incumbents were voted out in the last election – it was a referendum on the poor policies of the school board and Hardy Murphy, which includes ramming through this expensivce and unneccesary new school.
Meanwhile, all other D65 schools skimp by on bare bone budgets where buildings constructed before WWII don't even have central air conditioning.
It was revealed in court recently that the Wilmette School District 39's hired law firm gave a falsely low estimate to voters about a property tax referendum’s impact to taxpayers. Herb Sorock and the Taxpayers United of America sued the Wilmette School District for misleading voters into passing property tax increases on April 5 ballots.
At least Wilmette taxpayers had a chance to vote on a property tax referendum. The D65 Board is doing everything it can to keep Evanstonians from voting. We need Sorock and the Taxpayers United for America here in Evanston. NOW!!!
Remember, Katie Bailey was
Remember, Katie Bailey was NOT voted out.
Students of color need their own neighborhood school
Students of color who live around ETHS should have a neighborhood school. I agree.
The economic mess and bank foreclosures have disproportionately affected Black, Latino, and Senior citizens. District 65 is a THIRD of the property tax bill in Evanston. District 65 has a deficit now, which only taxpayers will pay. Building a new school will increase taxes severely.
Evanston citizens cannot afford a $25 million increase in taxes, along with the City of Evanston deficit. The same citizens who are struggling through the economic mess will be hit with higher property taxes.
Students of color could have the jewel of District 65 as their neighborhood school – King Lab. Students could walk to school. Parents could have a PTA made up of their neighbors.
Raising property taxes for struggling Black, Latino, and Senior citizens would be a travesty.
Building a school without letting the citizens of Evanston vote would be an injustice.
Giving Martin Luther King Lab school to its home neighborhood is fair.
One small group should not push an agenda for all
"Raising property taxes for struggling Black, Latino, and Senior citizens would be a travesty."
What about raising property taxes for struggling White citizens? The tax increase would effect ALL of Evanston tax payers. Last time I checked the economic decline wasn't solely affecting a certain group of citizens.
I don't understand why people in Evanston have to continue to separate based on race. We teach our children to be fair and understanding to all no matter what their race, religion or economic standing. Yet as adults in this community we keep drawing racial lines and push for race specific agendas. This is absolutely ridiculous.
And what about the fact that a survey of parents in the ward was taken, one half did not even bother to participate and the parents who participated ARE HAPPY WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE.
"Students of color who live around ETHS should have a neighborhood school."
Really? I thought this was what the sixties were about? I thought students of color wanted to be able to be included everywhere…why in the world would people want to go backwards now? I thought the whole push to remove honors humanities at the high school level was to allow students of all backgrounds to share experiences and learn from each other? And again, parents of the students we are talking about – the ones that took the time to voice their opinions – ARE HAPPY WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE.
What is starting to become apparent to me is that there is a small group of vocal strong willed people pushing their own agenda that they believe is for the greater good. The same thing happened with the ACC program at Oakton and then the district had to convince families to participate. The community that they were saying wanted and need it DID NOT flood the district with applications for the program. From what I have read it isn't even someone with school age children pushing for the new school.
"STUDENTS OF COLOR HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO RIDE A BUS TO SCHOOL EACH DAY–TO THE TUNE OF 500-700 CHILDREN.This is a travesty, an injustice, and unfair! Additionally, it is possibly a racialized paradigm that the city of Evanston has the opportunity to correct with bold leadership and citizenry."
This is just not true. The 5th Ward is NOT the only ward/neighborhood where "students of color" reside. What about Oakton? What about Dawes? What about Washington? When people move into the place they will live they HAVE A CHOICE as to the location of their residence. The travesty and injustice for those children stems from a much different place than the fact that they are being bused to school. Give me a break.
If a group was calling for a school for students that were white no one would stand for it and the discussion would not have come this far. District 65 cannot afford a new school. Evanston taxpayers, white, black, latino, seniors, asian, indian, middle eastern, african, inter-racial, cannot afford another tax hike. Take all this energy that is being wasted on this new school idea and put it toward educating the part of the community that needs to understand that they need to take an interest in their child's education and what resources are available to them if they feel they cannot assist in a way that is meaningful. Take all this energy to help set up car pools and social activities on the weekends so people can get to know each other. Help save boocoo and set up tutoring programs there or after school programs where kids from all schools can gather together.
I hope the School Board realizes how detrimental it will be if they go behind the taxpayers backs to make this happen AND how detrimental it will be to people (like myself) who cannot afford their property taxes to go up even another penny.
No one is denying the social
No one is denying the social injustice aspect of this issue, but talking about building a new school in this financial climate when every school district in the country is hurting and District 65 in particular is already facing a multi-million dollar operating budget deficit is fiscally irresponsible. Nor would a new school alleviate the majority of the space/capacity issues that the district is facing. This is not the answer. Even the 5th ward stakeholders who were surveyed don't want this school. The voters would never go for it, and now the district is trying to find a "loophole" to finance it through the DSEB? District 65 stakeholders should be outraged.
ETHS – our 5th Ward School
Isn't the High School in the 5th Ward? Another good reason to merge the two districts.
ETHS – 2nd Ward
The high school is in the 2nd Ward, although it's just across Church Street from the 5th Ward.
See the city's ward map.
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