The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board wrestled with the consequences of the failed March 20 referendum that would have financed a new school and additions to the district’s middle schools and came to an unofficial consensus that a new referendum in November might be necessary if the district is to solve its space problems.
“We have to think about putting this back on the ballot in November,” said member Andrew Pigozzi. “I really don’t see a choice.”
He added: “And I think you’re looking at a floor of $20 million. You can’t adequately solve the problem for $5 million a piece,” referring to major additions at Haven and Nichols middle schools.
Member Richard Rykhus was not sure that was a good idea without exploring other options first, like scaling back the scope of the projects.
“What we had proposed was an ideal state, “ he said. “Now we have to think about what is an essential state.”
In the failed March referendum, some $28 million was allocated for middle school renovations, including $20 million for Haven and Nichols and $8 million for Chute and the district’s two magnet schools at King Lab and Bessie Rhodes.
Rykhus contended that the board needed to see how it could scale down the projects to a point that it might be financed out of the district’s debt service extension base that would enable the district to sell bonds up to a certain limit without going for a referendum.
Board President Katie Bailey questioned whether that would be the right thing to do in light of the fact that the voters had, in effect, vetoed those expenditures that were part of the March referendum.
“Can we vote to do the middle schools when that was part of the referendum that was voted down?” she asked. “We don’t know why people voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I’m struggling with that.”
Member Tracy Quattrocki contended that “what was voted down was paying more taxes.”
Member Jerome Summers, who had championed the new-school referendum, had a different view.
“Is it about money?” he asked. “In the last two years , we’ve spent more than $20 million at Willard and Dewey and three months ago added $10 million at Lincoln and not one person came in and talked about hard economic times, or their property taxes going up, or increased operating expenses.”
In public comments about the referendum, he said, objections dealt with perceptions about “low-income kids learning if they sit next to each other, or diversity at the schools. But money was not the issue.”
Bailey said the discussion will continue at future board meetings.