Distict 65 Board of Education meeting on Monday night.

The unanticipated $7.5 million in red ink in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 was summed up this way by Board of Education member Joey Hailpern at Monday night’s board meeting:

“Going over the way we’ve been going over doesn’t add up.”

Indeed, while it does not add up the way board members would like, the Fiscal 2023 budget (which ended June 30) did add up to more money going out than coming in.

And that means additional financial scrutiny for the upcoming budget, and for budgets to come after that.

“We had some end-of-year surprises in our expenses,” said Hailpern, who chairs the board’s finance committee.

“This will lead to some tough conversations” on what might have to be reduced, modified, or even eliminated.

When it comes to spending, “is it a need, or a want?” Hailpern said.

Higher-than-predicted costs for transportation was the largest component of the FY23 deficit.

Of course, many expenses cannot be avoided, but sometimes, as board members said, invoices for certain contracts are being paid before the board has a chance to review them.

“Some of those expenses are ongoing,” noted board member Soo La Kim, but “especially for new contracts,” she said, “there needs to be a heads up” for the board first.

And even older contracts, Kim said, “need occasional review and assessment.”

The school board has to approve the upcoming Fiscal 2024 budget by the end of September.

While District 65 expects to end FY ’24 with an $800,000 surplus in a nearly $171 million budget, long-term pressures will not go away.

Enrollment keeps shrinking, transportation expenses will keep rising until the new 5th Ward School opens in 2025 (reducing a lot of busing), D65 is gradually taking over the costs of crossing guards from the city, and the teachers’ union will be negotiating a new contract next year.

“The biggest thing,” said board member Mya Wilkins, “is no surprises.”

The red ink was even noted by the search firms District 65 is considering, as the school system looks for a permanent replacement for Devon Horton as superintendent. (Assistant Superintendent Angel Turner is interim superintendent for academic 2023-24).

The board heard from four search companies on Monday night, on how each would find the best candidates.

When asked what challenges a new superintendent will face, Gloria Davis, of GR Recruiting, replied that one of the issues is the “hefty deficit.”

Three other search firms also made their best cases to be hired: HYA Associates, Alma Advisory Group, and the Illinois Association of School Boards (which has a school executive search group along with its other functions).

All four firms agreed on the significance of equity, reducing the achievement gap between white and minority students and involving the community in the search process.

There are cost differences. Least expensive is IASB, with an approximately $10-15,000 price tag. GR and HYA are at or near $25,000. Most costly is Alma, which charges 32% of the superintendent’s base salary. In Evanston, that would be about $84,000, according to Alma’s Monica Santana Rosen.

Board president Sergio Hernandez said he hopes the board will select a search firm within the next couple of weeks.

Hernandez also noted “my hope is that we can find somebody who can stick it out longer than 3-5 years” as superintendent, which, he noted, is the norm around the nation.

But, he said, the post-COVID reality of running a school system does not make longevity any easier.

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

Join the Conversation


  1. Is there really nothing more to say? At the end of the day, the board had one job and they failed miserably

    It is clear that the prior administration was given carte blanche to pursue its mission and there were no pragmatic voices in the room to stop it.

    The difficult conversation needs to be the 5th Ward school. Only a government can green light a major project without voter referendum and claim that it saves money.

    I guess we have to hit bottom before we change our direction

  2. To anyone in business, it is hard to believe the variance to the transportation budget wasn’t noted earlier. It’s either incompetence or they covered it up.

    If they D65 board is now concerned about budget overruns, they need start paying attention to the new school construction project. They are way overdue to provide the public an update on the budget.

  3. Saying words out loud, that’s what the current Board is good at. Can they (ever) follow up with actual action? At this point, it’s doubtful.

  4. So we have no idea how we ended up with a $7.5M deficit, and those in charge are bolting to other jobs. Something is either inept or fishy.

  5. Time to throw the bums out. Given the performance here and on city council it would be hard to support any incumbent

  6. Malfeasance. Incompetence. Ineptitude. These words (and then some) describe this BOE, this Administration, and the attorneys that represent the District. The entire cabal. Millions of dollars don’t just disappear; go unaccounted for. But only here can this puppet BOE and the Administration get away with a response that goes something like this: “We’ll do better next time. Promise. Pinky swear!” The bottom line is this: there needs to be a full accounting of every dollar spent — what was approved by the BOE, and what wasn’t? What was approved by the CFO and never went to the BOE, but was supposed to? What went to Horton’s associates and friends of associates? What was spent and where — down to the penny.? If we lived in Normalsville USA, an honest BOE, a BOE with integrity and a sense of accountability to the public, would have called for an independent audit immediately. Not here, not in “special” and “unique” Evanston, IL. Instead, it’s “Golly gee, something doesn’t add up” and “No more surprises, pretty please!” And the residents? Our response? We barely wake from our apathetic slumber. This place is beyond bizarre. Are we being punk’d?

    (Oh, and PS — hey DEC (d65 teachers union): you endorsed all of these people….have fun fighting for your members in the next contract negotiation. This is ALL on you. I can only hope the teachers see this clearly. Actions have consquences. And this time, it’s going to be ugly.)

    1. BEST post ever! When we left in 2019 we knew D65 was going to implode. The writing was on the wall. The students and the families (who actually care) don’t deserve this. What a shame.

    2. As a recently former DEC member and a resident in the district, I was appalled with DEC’s endorsements. I think many teachers were. However, this is most definitely NOT all on DEC. The election of the current board is ALL on the voters, and even more on the non-voters. 19% showed up to vote these people in. The collective “we” get what we deserve by not voting and by not paying attention. All to the detriment of our children.

      1. Agreed, it is shocking that this BOE was re-elected so easily. Unfortunately more residents are voting with their wallets (private school) than the ballot boxes.

      2. Thanks Recently Former D65 Teacher. Maybe it was an over-reach to say that it’s ALL on DEC. Obviously, our collective apathy is the driving force, but DEC endorsements matter a lot and influence people to vote for their candidates — esp if the voters are not super engaged in what’s going on in schools. The message sent is that these are the candidates the teachers support, want & trust. I had no idea that maybe teachers were appalled or unsupportive of DEC endorsements — wow! What a mess!! I do want to thank you for your time as a D65 teacher. It’s hard to believe we are where we are. Like you said — in the end, it’s Evanston kids that are hurt the most. What will it take for this community to wake from its apathetic slumber?

        1. I agree that the DEC endorsement could have made a difference. Hernandez–the only incumbent who had a hand in hiring Horton–only beat John Martin by 300 votes or so.

          If they had endorsed Martin he likely would have won.

          1. Or maybe three hundred and one Evanstonians who cared about the direction the feckless and financially irresponsible board was headed could have shown up and voted to oust Hernandez. The DEC president at the time enjoyed a cozy relationship with the former HR director and the board, and their endorsement was not that of the super majority of the DEC members. DEC’s endorsement created a lot of resentment among the union body.

        2. What will it take for this community to wake up from their apathetic slumber? For it least the last three years the ONLY message we hear from the BOE and the superintendent is EQUITY. We need more black teachers. We need to bring our babies home said Devon Horton. I am positive that the next superintendent will be hired when he/ she declare his/ her focus will be equity. How about focusing on a rigorous curriculum for ALL students. If race continues to be the dominant and only concern of our community well the private schools will continue to have waiting lists. Any school district that spends millions bringing students to school in a taxi has hired incompetent special education administrators. There are tier 1 , tier 2, tier 3 interventions designed for behavioral interventions. It will be very interesting to see who they bring in for interviews for superintendent

  7. I don’t recall the percentage in the recent voting in April for Board members. it was pretty dismal that I know for sure. Evanston people need to wake up. The board said this a “ wake up” call. Is everyone asleep in this town?

  8. As a 40 yr resident of Ev, I have no facts at hand, but a few theories on why more citizens didn’t vote in last BOE election. 1) my condo building, one of 4 on a short block, located directly south of downtown Ev, owners are mostly empty nesters from our more northern and western suburbs. No interest in local elections at all, especially relating to our schools. 2) if D65 is seeing a decline in enrollment, those families have either departed EV or sent their kids to local private schools. So perhaps just fewer residents , and potential voters, have a stake in Evanston schools. And yes, my kids attended D65 and ETHS schools. No, I didn’t vote in the last BOE election. Comments here by others have changed my mind; I will vote next time.

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