It was standing-room-only Monday night for the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board meeting. About 250 citizens showed up to let board members know they were dissatisfied with cuts proposed to forge a balanced budget for the next school year.

Of the 35 persons who addressed the board, 20 were parents, nine were teachers, four were students, and two were citizens expressing support for a 5th Ward school that was rejected in a referendum vote in March.

The rest of the crowd applauded, cheered, and waved signs to show they agreed with many of the statements.

Due to the overflow crowd, some spectators found space on the floor at the front of the room.

Mostly it was a fine-arts crowd, protesting proposed budget cuts in the number of teachers who are scheduled to teach band, choral, drama, and art in the elementary and middle schools next year.

They were unwilling to accept assurances from the administration that the amount of time spent in fine arts classes would not be significantly reduced. The teachers were protesting the planning time that was being cut, particularly teachers of fine arts and physical education in the middle schools.

Many of the parents were from schools that would no longer have fulltime art teachers. In order to keep the amount of time art is taught in class, the administration is proposing that they be shifted from school to school in order to maximize their efficiency.

Typical of the parents’ reaction was that of an Orrington School parent who said that hiring multiple teachers “reduces the power of consistency” and “reduces the ability of teachers to become a true part of the faculty.”

This photo, taken from the television feed,shows the looks of concern on the faces of the audience.

Physical education teachers insisted they needed sufficient planning time to set-up and take-down equipment required to do their jobs effectively.

The final speaker, an opera singer who started out poor, but found a satisfying career because of the music lessons provided by schools during her youth, ended her remarks with an operatic howl that brought down the house.

In remarks after the public comments, Board President Katie Bailey read a prepared statement from the Board that acknowledged the pain the district was going through “in these profoundly difficult economic times,” but assured the parents and teachers that they were “trying to keep any cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.”

To the teachers, she said “we know that our plans call for asking middle school teachers and fine arts and PE teachers to teach more next year,” but noted that these plans “are well within the terms of our contract.” She added: “We will continue to offer stipends for chorus, enrichment, and clubs.”

Superintendent Hardy Murphy noted that in 2002-2003, the district had to lay off about 45 teachers because it had failed to make the tough decisions earlier.

“All we’re doing here,” he said, “is trying to look way into the future so that we don’t find our backs against the wall and be faced with devastating decisions.”

Calling for patience, Murphy said “we are struggling against an economy and a state funding system that makes it very hard for school districts to operate and manage revenue streams that sometimes are sketchy at best and often come in short of what we anticipate.”

He added: “The decision and recommendations we are making are not easy ones.”

Bailey noted that the Finance Committee will be discussing budget proposals again at its June 11 meeting and the full Board in June and again in August, when it needs to take final action to meet the state-mandated September 1 deadline.

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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  1. School crowding

    Here's an idea, modified from an article in this morning's New York Times.  Let the many churches in Evanston, who pay no taxes yet benefit from city services, donateE rooms for overflow classes…their facilities go largely unused anyway during the weekday daytimes. 

  2. Obvious manipulation

    I knew and posted that this was coming and what will come next.  Right after the referendum failed they announced all the arts cuts.  They expected, and have now received, the parental outrage.  The outrage will now be used to justify a way to increase and extract even more money from the taxpayer in any way possible. 

    The statement that they are trying to keep the cuts out of the classroom doesn't ring true to me.  It seems to me the first place they went, immediately after the failed referendum, was directly and intentionally to the classroom with large cuts.  Not adminstrative cuts, no budget review, nothing else discussed. 

    It was only a few days after the referendum failure that the cuts were announced and that's how they got the response they needed to implement the large increases in taxes they want.  Sorry I have become so cynical, but to me it seems an obvious manipulation of parents to achieve their desired results. 

  3. The budget of magical thinking

    The budget of magical thinking goes poof.  The community saw through this immediately when it was announced on the verge of the referendum and knew the administration was simply trying to pull every lever it had to get it passed.  Its failure was an unquestionable lack of confidence vote in the D65 administration leadership.  The Board must pay attention and require ethical and strategic leadership for our community.  Public schools are critical to this town's success.

  4. What cuts have they made at admin. and central office?

    Shoudn't they keep the teachers that work directly with the children and cut unnecessary people in admin. and the central office before they cut the teachers that actually make a difference?

    1. Privatize the administration and central office

      With all the contracts the Council and Board take out what about an independent third party to evaluate the number of admin. and central office [and any non-teaching positions in each school] and functions [eg. maintence crews in each building, i.e. each having their own crews] to  see if the they are really need.

      Kellogg and NU Education schools and maybe others could do so—though the Education dep. may have self-serving motives.  The Engin. school should also be able to advise on the schools—where maintenance and facilities improvements [including heating/cooling savings] could be made.

      As it is it seems the various offices are there to 'make work', find ways to increase their budgets and power each year.  How many superintendents, and principals do we really need ? Perhaps with one per regional  [area of the city] or one per grade [elementary, middle and ETHS] group would work and reduce the "mine" vrs. 'their' competition.  Do we really need assist. principals and such at all ?

      Cut the administration and put the money into more highly qualified teachers.

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