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The Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board voted 5-2 this evening to ask voters to approve a $48.2 million dollar referendum to construct a new school in the 5th Ward and build additions at the district’s middle schools.

The vote came after months of debate about the merits of a new school and with concerns about growing enrollments and worries about increasing budget deficits.

Board member Jerome Summers in voting for the referendum said Evanston has been a leader in education and in fighting for civil rights all the way back to Civil War days and said building a new school in the predominantly black 5th Ward would show the town’s commitment to maintaining and continuing that tradition.

Board member Kim Weaver said she was most excited about the potential the referendum offered to put more resources into the existing middle schools, but said the new school is needed to address enrollment capacity issues.

But board member Eileen Budde, who voted against the referendum,  said the district’s enrollment projections show a need for only four to six elementary school classrooms, while the proposed new school would provide 18.

And she said it would be irresponsible to add a new school when the district may find itself without enough money to maintain current staffing levels in existing schools within the next few years.

Board member Andrew Pigozzi, a school architect, said he was very enthusiastic about the referendum. “I don’t believe it’s a huge request that we’re asking,” Pigozzi said.

“We’ll always have problems and issues with our budget,” he added, arguing that the expansion is necessary to provide a 21st century learning environment.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki suggested that she was on the fence about the merits of the referendum herself.

“It’s a complex and difficult question,” she said.

But she said she ultimately concluded that the question should be answered by the entire community, not just the seven board members.

Board member Richard Rykhus said he saw pluses and minuses to the referendum question, but ultimately decided to vote against it mostly because of the way low income families would be concentrated in the new school.

“We’ve estimated that around 85 percent of the students at the new school would be from low income families,” he said. “That’s 20 to 25 percent higher than what we see at the school with the highest low income enrollment now.”

“Experience across the country says it will be a very difficult task to ensure success for these kids in that environment, and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take,” Rykhus said.

Board President Katie Bailey called the referendum issue “enormously complicated” and said “everybody on the board cares deeply about the children of the district.”

But She called the referendum proposal “a comprehensive plan” that would address capacity concerns, educational quality and social justice issues.

And she said she wanted to allow voters to weigh the decision themselves.

The referendum will be held as part of the presidential primary election on March 20.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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29 Comments

  1. Good news.

    Now the voters get to decide.  Whether you are for or against the referendum, how can you say we shouldn't have the choice?

    1. Please vote against this

      Please vote against this referendum. We cannot afford it, and we do not need this space. There is already adequate surplus space at ETHS.

      1. I will be voting FOR the referendum

        But isn't it great that we all get to have our own opinions instead of the "all knowing" school board making choices for us?

      2. We can’t NOT afford it!

        We can't NOT afford it! First, space surpluses at ETHS are irrelevant, as that has nothing to do with space needs at the elementary and middle school levels (not to mention that ETHS is operated by District 202, not 65). In addition to needing space at the middle schools and several elementary schools, people need to think about the fact that we are trying to educate our kids in buildings that are up to 100 years old – not only are the facilities substandard and in need of serious maintenance, but they are not equipped to take advantage of technology that can give the kids in our community a truly top-notch education. Building a new school in the 5th Ward is just a part of what Evanston needs to put its public school system into the 21st century – vote yes on the referendum!

        1. Afford it?

          Interesting that many schools, especially charters, do well in old buildings.

          You seem to think that we can afford it. What happens when we run out of other peoples money?

        2. You just listed all the reasons we shouldn’t build a new school.

          1. You comment that District 65 and 202 are separate- they do not have to be. If we consolidated, we COULD use the space for middle school students. Why could we not?

          2. "Educating kids in 100 year old buildings" — and building one new school will solve this issue for the other schoools how?

          3. Technology- Wake up call- the district is already in a 3 million dollar hole, this year. The next few years, this deficit will continue growing.    The proposal for the new school would also requiring adding 
          "Only" $470,000 to pay for teachers for a 15 classroom school. according to board reports… Which is ridiculous, considering that $31,000 wouldn't even be the mean salary in district for the 15 classroom teachers alone, not to mention support staff, administration, janitors, lunch ladies, nurses, etc. etc.  .

          Adding another school will only pull yet more money from technology.   This referendum is for building a new building, not adding technology.

          Vote NO for the referendum. 

          Use some creative thinking to re-distribute kids, classrooms and resources.  Redistrict.

          Keep the schools that we have strong.

          There will always be equity in excellence.

  2. Now the challenge of getting people to the polls

    What's the usual % turnout in Evanston for city wide votes? Glad it's tied to a presidential primary election. 

  3. Rather than consolidate, D65 wants to spend $50 million more

    The City of Evanston raised taxes 17 percent in the past two years. The city gas tax, water and sewer rates, fees and fines in Evanston all have gone up in the past two years.

    Illinois Democrats raised our income tax 67 percent last year and an internet sales tax this year.

    Cook County sales taxes are the highest in the nation at 10 percent.

    The D65 school budget is projected to be deep in the red in a few years.

    And D65 Board members voted for a nearly $50 million referendum for a new school where current enrollment hasn't come to close to peak enrollments 10 years ago. And some board members have turned this new school issue into social justice.

    Well folks, let me tell ya straight up. People looking to buy real estate do NOT want to buy in areas with high taxation and news that more taxes might come will scare more away.

    Last year, 40 percent of all Illinois real estate sales involved distressed properties. Approximately 30 percent of all Chicagoland area homes are underwater and those figures are growing.

    The nation is broke. The state is broke. The county is broke. Evanston will soon be broke. Our school  districts will soon operate in the red. State unemployment is at 10 percent and has been above 9 percent for 36 months.

    And for some reason our local and state government keeps growing. Shame on the D65 board members who voted for this and spent all their time on this when they should have been focused on consolidating D65 and D202. I am most upset with Tracy Quattrocki – I thought she knew better.

    It's NOT a complex issue.

    Since this has also become a race issue involving Civil Rights I imagine the votes will be split based on race. What a shame. Even a survey of Fifth Ward residents indicated scant desire for a new school. This will shake the community fault lines. It doesn't have to be like this. But it is.

    All I can say is when the time comes those who oppose this unneccessary and extremely expensive referendum need to stand up,  organize and vote it down. Then field sensible candidates and vote out Bailey, Summers, Pigozzi, Weaver and Quattrocki. Then fire Hardy Murphy.

    Let's consolidate D65 and D202 and make foreign language mandatory FOR ALL D65 STUDENTS from k-3rd grade. Right now, only a few D65 schools provide foreign language to a handful of lucky students enrolled in TWI. That's not fair to the rest of the students and is depriving THEIR right to an equal and fair education. Maybe a lawsuit is in order.

    I better stop. I am very mad.

    1. what he said

      Al, you are so incredibly right on this one that you spare me even having to type it up.  D65 had many more students 10 years ago, ETHS is not using full capactiy, the D65 admin building is huge.  

      Who is making the yard signs and how do I get one?

    2. Let’s be clear

      Board members were voting whether or not to give us (the taxpayers) the right to vote on a referendum.  Are you indicating that they should be voted out for allowing us to weigh in on such an important decision?

      It's fine if you choose to vote against the referendum, put signs in your yard and even repeat the same faulty logic on evanstonnow over and over again, but please don't think you have the right to take away my ability to decide for myself on this issue.

    3. A symbolic act

      "in fighting for civil rights all the way back to Civil War days and said building a new school in the predominantly black 5th Ward would show the town's commitment to maintaining and continuing that tradition."

      ========================

      $48 million is a lot to spend for a symbolic act.

      The Evanston budget has been blown for years by every group wanting "theirs" or some symbolic act to show their group or cause is just and un-recognized.

      In the end the $48 million would come from somewhere else [residents don't have infinite incomes]—like the quality of education, fewer teachers, cuts to the library, cuts to arts, cuts to social programs.  Money is fungible—you spend it one place it comes out of somewhere else.

      Next I'm sure some white or latin [look at population growth] group will want 'their own' school.

  4. District 65 board is confused

    Why would these people lack the fiscal skill to realize they need to past an operating referundum.  versus build a school – if they come back to the voters in a year for an operating referundum – it may not pass.

    Do they want to see 50 to 100 teachers laid off?  and the kids in over crowded class rooms. and a new school with no teachers?

    vote no – and tell the board to get its act together.

    The truth needs ot get out about what is going on here – people need to realize the boards lack of fiscal responsiblitly. and also realize they need the operating funds

     

  5. look at California

    Actually, no, I don't think the entire population should vote on everything.  We don't have referenda for the federal budget; we expect Congress to do that.  California is falling apart as a result of their incredibly ill-advised electoral proposition system.  The people able to spend money on proposition campaigns have a ridiculous amount of power and employ consultants to write confusing propositions on purpose.  No — this is not good public policy.

    We have neither the time nor the energy to vote on every idea any group has.  We need the School Board to responsibly fulfill the roles for which WE ELECTED them.  Not ask us to vote on every decision they don't want to make because it is hard.  We exercised our opiinion when we voted for the school board itself.

    So no — I don't believe in unfettered democracy (especially in the new regime where unlimited $$ can be poured into political campaigns).  And if you think about it, you probably don't either (even if you appreciate the chance to vote on one or another particular issue, which I understand can be very powerful).  Just saying.

    1. Really, “every idea any group has”?

      Well personally I don't think that voting on, as you said, a budget – or "every idea any group has" is the same thing as voting on a 48M referendum that will solve our ongoing overcrowding issues and build a new school in an underserved neighborhood.  And if you think about it, you probably don't either (even if you appreciate the chance to criticize the volunteer school board members at any opportunity, which I understand can be very powerful). 

      1. yeah —

        first it was the libraries and now it is this.  So yeah, I am starting to see a trend here when appointed or elected boards don't like the constraints under which they have to operate.  They punt to the electorate who then has to vote with very little context about what certain decisions mean in the context of the larger budgets in which they will occur.  

        I think this school board does pretty well and worked on the campaigns of many of them.  Some that voted yes and some that voted no.  So yes, I would like the people we elect as a group to do the studying and make the hard decisions that are best for everyone. That's the basic idea of a representative democracy.

        And I guess we have to agree to disagree on theovercrowding issue.  I just don't think we are actually having a continuing overcrowding problem.  I do think the neighborhood you refer to is underserved – which is why I do lots and lots of volunteer work in that neighborhood and for organizations whose work centers on that area.  In the 1990s when everyone (including our municiplaity)  had money because of the economy, I would favor it.  But the money gets spent in an historical moment.  And in this historical moment, we can't afford it.  

        1. oh and the reason

          I said that about you probably not wanting democracy like that is becuase you seem committed to equality for the 5th Ward, which I take as a general anti-racist, pro-equality point of view (same as me) which tends to be associated with the political left.  And the political left has the most to lose as democracy can increasingly be bought by the wealthy as the Supreme Court recently allowed under Citizens United.  But maybe I misunderstand your position.

  6. No Skin in the Game… But

    If this passes… more reasons for me to move out of Evanston into a fiscally responsible community with governance that deals with reality, not moral pet projects.

  7. A symbolic victory

    A symbolic victory for the children and families of the 5th Ward.  (Personally I pray the referendum passes).

    I think its great that progressive Evanstonian's have decieded that it's not correct for one group of children to bear the full responsibility for desegregation for 40+ years.  When is enough enough?

    I guess it would be OK to keep that going for another 40. Funny, no one has a comment on that.  When will we start to tell the whole truth? I guess the economics is the only truth that matters.

    Justice, equality, opportunity, fairness, that's a bunch of bunk.

    1. what about a school choice plan?

      where parents can pick their school?  and we spend $48M on hiring the best teachers we can find?  that is just one idea, but I mean to say that $48M could go a long way toward reducing inequality in Evanston, but I don't think a building really does it.  Or what if we take the oldest most run down school and move administration to it and the administration building (which was built when we HAD money — instead of a new school) became a school.  It is state of the art.  But you would haev to trust the system toactually conduct a choice program and I think there is little faith that they could do it.  

    2. Segregate Evanston?

      So your solution is to segregate Evanston? How and when will friendships amongst the youth of different backgrounds develop when they don't go to school together? Just drive by the playgrounds during the middle of the day at Dewey, Willard, Lincoln, Orrington etc and see how well kids of all color are playing together. If that doesn't bring joy to your heart and a smile on your face I don't know what will.

      Look at the academic achievement data for students of color at Oakton and see how those children perform relative to students of color at Dewey, Lincolnwood, Lincoln, Orrington, Willard and Kingsley. Segregating children of color and from low income households in one school is not in the child's best interest.

      And lastly, are we just going to ignore the results of the survey? Seems like many people are very satisfied with the current school location. Yes, a group of people are unhappy. But in the 20 plus years i've lived in Evanston, I've NEVER experienced an event with 100% satisfaction. So on what basis do you suggest Evanstonians make this decision?

    3. A victory for the 5th ward kids? I think not

      News Flash- over 90% of the people in the 5th Ward are happy with the schools they have!   These people are not fighting for a new school-

      All this talk of "symbolic" equity is just a mask for rich north Evanstonians not wanting their home to lose property value if the schools are re-districted….  "but I moved here for Willard school…" I can hear them now.

      Why not solve the problems of north overcrowding by bussing the white kids south? There are spots at Walker and Oakton.   MOve some junior high classes into "Grade school" buildings if needed.  

      Or would that be a little too much justice, equality, and fairness for you?

      Vote No.  

      Achieve equity by making the kids in North Evanston bus south, just like they've asked the south to do for 40 years.

  8. Re; We can’t not afford it

    You are absolutely correct in all of you points. However, before the tax payers are asked to give more, where is the school board making cuts to help fund this? As someone earlier posted, Hardy makes about half of what the POTUS makes! Sound a bit crazy to you? There needs to be an outside audit and accounting of where our tax dollars are spent. Can we cut administration costs? Can they do more with the money they already get? If I want to go buy a new car, I don't ask my neighbors to pitch in. I look at how much money I have, where I can cut costs, etc. However because the Board is not spending their money, they have no problems spending and then spending more and then askeing for more money to spend.  

    As long as school funding is tied to property taxes, our schools will suffer. Everyone who wants a fifth ward school needs to fight to get school funding changed. If Evanston is not educating your children properly, fight for school vouchers so you can send your children to a better school. Fight for charter schools where the teachers union loses power to keep poor performing schools and teachers afloat. 

    Everyone needs to pressure their elected state officials. Until there is a change in Springfield, we will be arguing this same issue over and over. 

  9. Building or school?

    We do not need a new BUILDING to house students, what we really need is a new SCHOOL (definition: an institution where instruction is given)

    A school with more teachers, that would undoubtedly provide a better education to our students…. and that doesn't come from the buildings, no matter the neighborhood. Why are we not spending more on education? If we can afford to spend 48M on walls, why can't we take a similiar amount and concentrate our efforts on what education is really about??? 

    Why can't we have multiple teachers in the same classroom??? As a parent, I have been in the elementary classes to help out and I can tell you that not all the 20+ kids in the class during any given lesson are getting the whole lesson and time is always running out. Imagine a school that gives every student the time they truly need to learn each and every lesson? 

    1. More Segregation to appease white guilt

      A Board member said "We've estimated that around 85 percent of the students at the new school would be from low income families," he said. "That's 20 to 25 percent higher than what we see at the school with the highest low income enrollment now."

      ================================

      If as the story always goes, that poor/minoirty children always get less [from schools, etc.] then would it not make more sense to have the children mentioned go to well integrated schools where the supposed better resources are ?   The idea is to improve all students not segregate them and teach what 'consultants' think is their level.  ETHS created mixed classes to try to deal with bringing people 'up', not keeping the old 'tracking' as so many seem to think K-12 needs.   Besides look at the maps, if anything other wards have less 'neighborhood' representation than the 5th [i.e. distance from schools].

      Or is it assumed that only teachers hired for the proposed school would be able to teach these children ? that they are "less racist", will teach 'black"/"poor" centered culture and in those terms ?  Or will the teachers be of the same quality as in the existing school ?  will the 'best' [including able to teach what the Board seems to think are deprived/underperforming students] teachers want to transfer to the new school ?

    2. Especially with the push to

      Especially with the push to include more special ed kids in mainstream classrooms. Does D65 really think that these kids are somehow going to miraculously keep up with their peers? No. They're going to zone out and not learn anything except that everyone else thinks they're stupid. Most struggling kids need to be taught diferently in a setting where thy can feel they are succeeding.

  10. D65 will soon ask for a tax rate increase. Ain’t that peachy?

    What's not mentioned in this particular story is the D65 School Board delayed a request to ask voters for a tax rate increase.

    That's right, sport fans. D65 wants a tax increase along with $50 million.

    Most of the $50 million goes to the new school. Why did D65 include additions to existing buildings in the referendum? It's not necessary. Additions are being built RIGHT NOW!!!!!

    I know why. It's to throw off voters.

  11. I’ll be voting against the referendum.

    Even though we don't need more space in our D65 schools, a merger of D65 and D202 would add more space that we don't need, people in the 5th ward don't want the new school, it will cost 50 million dollars that we can not afford, the money needed to staff the school has not been disclosed, and Evanston already has exceptionally high property taxes, the teachers union will be pushing very hard to pass the referendum.

    The union leaders can already hear their cash registers go KA-CHING KA-CHING.

    VOTE  NO
     

  12. For social justice but against referendum

    I moved here from Chicago 4 years ago and continue to work with students and parents there.  Students and parents in Chicago want to send their kids to integrated schools but there are not enough available there.  I know students who commute 90 minutes to get away from their neighborhood school. 

    Where is there evidence that neighborhood schools enhance academic achievement?  I have seen no data showing that but I have seen quality instruction, integrated SES schools, with strong leadership does improve achievement.  Why are we moving in a direction that has no foundation in the current education research?

  13. I am so tired of all these

    I am so tired of all these school board and government board members taking the easy route and trying to raise taxes instead of doing what most of us have to do–make TOUGH decisions about how to work within our means. Fees and taxes have gone up considerably in the past 1-2 years for everything we do–food, gas, heating, schools, parks, water service, garbage service….when does it all end? Why can't any one CUT their budget like we are forced to do.

    This is a ridiculous waste of time and energy.

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