D65 Board willing to weigh no-build plan

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board asked the administration Monday night to come up with scenarios for meeting long-term capacity needs — including some that would not involve building a new school or substantially expanding existing schools.

But members insisted that all scenarios meet so-called "social justice" criteria that would involve sacrifice, if necessary, spread evenly throughout the district and not confined to parents and students in minority areas.

The request was an apparent reaction to public comments that implied that district voters were not yet ready to approve a referendum for financing a new school to alleviate pressures from growing enrollments, even though an ad hoc committee had studied various options before coming to the conclusion that a new school would be the district's best bet.

At the same time, the board has heard from a steady stream of black leaders who contend that their community deserves to have a neighborhood school that students can walk to.

Until the end of the 1960s, there was such a school–Foster School–which was closed in 1969 after busing began in 1967 to achieve voluntary integration of the district's schools.

The old Foster School now houses Family Focus. But the district still owns the adjacent Foster Field, which is one of the sites being considered for a new school in the central core of Evanston.

Among the possible alternatives to a new school mentioned by board members would be extensive redistricting of attendance-area schools that could involve busing students from predominantly white areas to schools located in or near more diverse residential areas.

Another suggestion was to make one or more schools a kindergarten-through-second grade school, with others designated third-through-fifth grade.

Other options might include year-round schools that would utiilize space currently unoccupied in the summer months or leasing space in the Evanston/Northwestern Research Park at Emerson and Maple. Whatever option is chosen, however, it would not increase district-approved class size guidelines.

The implication was that the no-build scenarios might be so draconian that voters would readily opt for approving the new-school solution recommended by the district's New School/Referendum Committee earlier this month.

After listening to the administration and other board members give their opinions on an appropriate timeline for reaching a decision in time for putting a referendum question on the March primary ballot, Board President Katie Bailey announced the following timeline:

  • Oct. 10 — Discuss administration scenarios and financing options, including an update on attendance projections.
  • Oct. 24 — Consider locations for a new school that would be suitable and available. At this meeting, the board would also discuss community feedback and consider the effect of various options on student achievement.
  • Nov. 7 — An  "extra" meeting to discuss issues raised in earlier meetings.
  • Nov. 21 — Final discussion of the various options before putting the issue up for a vote.
  • Dec. 5 — Vote on whether to hold a referendum.
  • Dec. 19 — Final opportunity to approve precise language for a referendum vote.

"We've set an impressive agenda for the next two months," Bailey said.

In other action, the board held a public hearing on the tentative budget for the current fiscal year that had earlier been approved by the Board. When no members of the public appeared to comment on the budget, which calls for an $856,000 surplus, the board formally adopted it by a unanimous vote.

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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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