“Emotions are running very, very, very high,” candidate Ndona Muboyayi said at Wednesday night’s forum for Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education candiates.

Three incumbents, Joey Hailpern, Soo La Kim, and Biz Lindsay-Ryan are on the April 6 ballot, along with challengers Moboyayi, Donna Wang Su, Angela Blaising, Katie Magrino Vorhees, and Marquise Weatherspoon. Four people will be elected.

Next week, the current board is scheduled to vote on $1.9 million in budget cuts, with far more reductions expected over the next few years because of the district’s growing structural budget deficit.

Blaising said the budget crisis is “a direct reflection of mismanagement by the board and superintendent.” Magrino Vorhees said District 65 enrollment is down by 500 students. “Kids are leaving,” she said. “We need to stop spending money we don’t have.” Blaising and Magrino Vorhees are actively involved in the Reopen Evanston Schools organization.

The three incumbents saw things quite differently, saying a structural deficit has been a problem for years. The 2017 tax referendum, Kim said, was meant to “buy us time to evaluate cuts and right size” the district. The COVID-19 pandemic increased costs, and brought the decision time sooner, she added.

Hailpern, the board’s finance committee chair, said “We need to go lean in the administration,” but the deficit issue has been here “for decades,” and to blame the current board is unfair. Lindsay-Ryan said it was “a great disservice” to have only one minute to respond about such a huge issue, but said “we can’t keep kicking the can” on possible reductions.

Muboyayi, who is also involved with the Reopen group, criticized the elimination of reading intervention positions as part of the upcoming cuts. Su said the deficit has indeed been an issue for years, but said the current board has had “quite a bit of spending on consultants.” Weatherspoon also said she was “concerned about the deficit,” but said “things are looking up.”

The current Atlantic magazine article about the Black Lives Matter Week in the district, the subject of an Evanston Now report on Wednesday, also saw disagreement. The Atlantic article suggested that a District 65 curriculum which incorporated materials from BLM raised “questions about the line between education and indoctrination.”

Su said she “took offense” at the article’s conclusions, and said the curriculum was implemented in collaboration with teachers. Kim said only offering a “whitewashed Eurocentric view” of history is wrong. Lindsay-Ryan sounded a similar theme, saying she “had to be out of college to learn what is not whitewashed history.” And Hailpern said that while part of the BLM curriculum might make him as a white man feel uncomfortable, teachers should be trusted to help students think critically and not feel forced into one viewpoint.

Weatherspoon said, “We don’t want anyone to feel ostracized for what they are,” and it’s long overdue to start teaching that Black lives matter.

Blaising, Magrino Vorhees,and Muboyayi agreed there were a lot of good points in the BLM curriculum, but felt, as Blaising put it, that some aspects “do cross the line,” and it’s wrong to tell kids “how to think.”

Magrino Vorhees worried that “emotions of guilt and shame” were being “weaponized,” which could lead to white students having lower self-esteem. Muboyayi said there has been Black genocide perpetrated by Black individuals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she had family. “It was not white supremacy which did that,” she said. “You can’t label one group as all bad versus all good.”

As you might imagine, the Reopen candidates were critical of both the process and the timing of District 65’s hybrid school startup last month, while incumbents defended the time frame on health and safety reasons.

District 202, Evanston Township High School, only has three incumbents running for re-election, and no challengers. So that race is not getting much attention, as all three will win.

But District 65 is different. The issues are challenging, and there are some very different opinions. As Su put it, “change isn’t going to be easy. We need to be uncomfortable as we have these discussions.”

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

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