The friendly crossing guard who helps your child across the street when District 65 schools open next week may be a familiar face, but the money keeping him or her on the job will start coming from a new source.
While that source may not matter to you as long as the guards are on the job and your child is safe, making sure the paychecks continue is the only way for that to happen.
State law does not require municipalities to have school crossing guards, but Evanston has been doing so anyway for 20 years, with the annual price tag now at nearly $600,000. Finally, the city wants out.
And so on Monday, the District 65 Finance Committee recommended approving a deal for the schools to take over the program from the city, and gradually start assuming the costs.
That resolution says “District 65 has the responsibility for the safe travels of students on city streets,” although the district will not have to pick up all of the expenses at once.
For the upcoming school year, the $577,500 price tag will be divided evenly between the city and District 65.
Then, each year through 2026-27, the school district’s share will go up, and the city’s percentage will decrease.
Come 2027-28, District 65 will pick up the entire tab, which by then will be more than $700,000.
Finance Committee Chair Joey Hailpern was glad that a deal could be reached, because city-school board relations in the past have sometimes been a challenge.
“For all the time I’ve been here,” Hailpern said, “there’s been a tension between how people feel about the District 65 board and the city, with very few people cheerleading for both.”
However, Hailpern said he hopes the crossing guard agreement is a symbol of the ability to get things done.
City Council has already approved the deal, with full school board approval now anticipated.
But whomever pays for the crossing guards, those guards will once again have fewer children to protect.
The enrollment decline at District 65 is projected to continue in 2022-23, decreasing by 58 students to 6,439, grades K-8. (The totals do not include Rice and Park special schools, and pre-Kindergarten).
A memo from the district’s business officer, Kathy Zalewski, noted that enrolllment has been shrinking since 2018, “with the pandemic accelerating the process.”
Over the past three years, Zalewski said, the district lost more than 650 students, or almost 10 per cent of the total student population.
Despite that loss, Zalewski noted that District 65 did not cut staff to match the reduced number of students until 25 teaching positions were eliminated through attrition at the end of last year.
Administrators have said that such reductions, along with administratitve cuts, an aggressive effort to receive grants, and federal pandemic relief funds have added up to an optimistic budget projection for the upcoming school year.
The tentative budget discussed at Monday’s committee meeting projects operating expenses of $153.3 million, only a 1% increase over the 2021-22 budget.
Superintendent Devon Horton said that despite what some people may think, District 65 is “exremely financially responsible.”
Administrators said the referendum reserve fund, approved by taxpayers several years ago, has actually increased through conservative management.
Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi said that having the reserve dollars on hand has turned out to be critical, because there will be a several-month delay in school districts receiving their second installment property tax distributions this year.
Without the reserve, Obafemi noted, “we’d be in really bad shape.”
In fact, he said he’s been “getting calls from what I would call payday loan companies,” asking if District 65 needed any short term loans at high interest rates to carry the schools through until the property taxes come in.
The answer, Obafemi said, was “no.”