The District 65 board committee meeting today.

Here’s a reason it took as long as it did to reopen Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools earlier this year … tables instead of desks.

At a Buildings and Grounds Committee Monday afternoon, Superintendent Devon Horton explained that the district’s middle schools had tables where students used to sit … which made six-foot social distancing a challenge when schools were ready to partially reopen with a hybrid model in February.

Now, with school opening fully in person later this month, officials explained that District 65 has ordered more than 3,000 desks, mostly for middle schools and some for elementary buildings, to make the current three-foot distancing easier to accomplish.

“We are making sure we maximize our space,” Horton said. “If there’s anything we learned from the pandemic,” he explained, “is that we need to be prepared to use every nook and cranny which is available.”

The desks and seats will cost nearly $500,000, money which comes from federal coronavirus relief legislation.

“Part of the reason we are able to open for everyone,” the superintendent explained, “is we converted to desks” from tables in middle schools.

District 65 is receiving more than $10 million in federal coronavirus assistance.

Besides using some of the money for desks, the district is also adding staff, including 48 tutors and 16 tutoring supervisors, to help students recover from learning loss due to remote learning and social-emotional problems from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is an opportunity for us to do something unique and different,” Horton said of the tutoring, which is something that affluent families can often afford on their own.

Board members also discussed the tentative budget for 2021-22. A public hearing will be held on September 27, where citizens can give their two cents on the tentative $156.4 million dollar proposal before the Board of Education approves a final spending plan.

The tentative budget is balanced, but future budgets will be a challenge, with reductions likely over the next several years.

In order to keep the district financially sound, Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi said, “We can’t let up now.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.