After months of discussing the financial future of Evanston’s schools, the Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to recommend to the full board that it seek an operating referendum of $14.5 million in the upcoming April election.

The vote came after Superintendent Paul Goren delivered a lengthy summary of discussions held with the committee ever since the current year’s budget was balanced after extensive efforts were made to reduce costs without materially affecting the classroom.

But it was considered inevitable that the structural deficit caused by expenses that increase faster than the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) would allow property taxes to increase revenues under legislated tax caps would ultimately require a referendum to be submitted to the district’s voters for their approval.

Goren presented three options, plus a stern warning about the hazards of doing nothing, an option he plainly felt would be disastrous for the district.

The three referendum options he discussed were for $13.5 million, $14.5 million, and $15.5 million.

The $13.5 million option would enable the district to be deficit-free through 2025, would enable technology funding to be part of the operating budget, rather than as a capital expense, would ensure a reading specialist at each elementary school, and would provide an additional $6.8 million for capital improvements.

The $14.5 million option would also enable the district to expand its middle school technology program and would increase the amount available for capital improvements to $8.2 million.

The $15.5 million option would increase the amount available for capital improvements to $8.4 million and would enable the district to contribute an additional $8 million to its fund balance, which would increase that fund to an estimated 25 percent of budget by Fiscal Year 2025. Currently that fund is dipping below 20 percent, which the district’s financial advisors contend could result in a lowering of its bond rating.

The impact on the taxpayer whose estimated property taxes paid this year were  $10,000, would amount to an additional $542 to $622 a year. The middle option would require an estimated $582 a year, Goren said.

But the worst option of all, in the superintendent’s view that is apparently shared by most board members, is trying to get by without a referendum.

To do that would require such draconian actions as increasing elementary school class size maximums, closing one or more schools, combining buildings to serve fewer grade levels, instituting multi-grade classrooms, and eliminating or charging families that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch for the second half of the kindergarten day.

On the other hand, a successful referendum, Goren predicted, would ensure small average class sizes, strengthening of the core curriculum across subjects, promote efforts to provide equitable outcomes for all students, provide intensive supports for striving students, enhance the social emotional learning and school climate, expand family supports and community partnerships, and provide essential technology for students and staff.

The next steps involve getting board approval for a referendum at its January 10 meeting and preparing “Plan B” deficit reduction strategies in the event that the referendum should fail.

The election on the referendum would be on April 4. From March through May, the district would notify staff of reductions if the referendum were to fail.

If the referendum passes, the additional funds would become available in Fiscal Year 2018, the superintendent noted.

Because the committee had discussed these options many times in the past, there was little discussion Monday night before it unanimously passed the motion to recommend the $14.5 million option.

Weighing on the minds of Board members was the fact that a referendum to provide for a new school in Evanstons’ Fifth Ward failed to pass in 2012.

Related story:

Neighborhoods split on school referendum

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...

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  1. What is the district’s “technology program”?

    What exactly is the technology program for middle schools?  If this is some scheme to give students laptops or some other toy, then it seems like a complete waste of money.  There is little evidence to suggest that sticking kids in front of a computer helps them learn key skills like reading, mathematics, language proficiency or writing.

  2. Send a message and vote out the incumbents

    D65 bureaucrats want $14.5 million for its operating budget at a time property owners are going to get slammed when they get their property tax bills in a few months. Taxes are going up a LOT!

    No thank you. The underlying problem elected officials keep ignoring is the unsustainable teacher union pensions, expenses the referendum money would likely cover. 

    Goverment unions in this town, county and state are running the show as it continues to support Democrat politicians on every govermental level to protect its precious jackpot pensions. Consider that Democrat politicians get more than 90 percent of all union campaign donations.

    As one commentator wrote: "The pension benefit for a retiring teacher today costs well over $1,000,000. While teachers contribute between 8-9% of their annual salary, Evanston taxpayers and other Illinois taxpayers are liable for the difference and bear all the risk."

    D65 bureaucrats are asking for $14.5 million without yet releasing the terms of the recent contract agreement with the D65 teacher's union. That doesn't smell right.

    Meanwhile, in light of this so called severe school district budget crisis, D65 bureaucrats in October agreed to a contract with the Evanston Custodial/Maintenance Association that gives them at least a 1.5 percent annual pay raise and a 2.5 percent bonus with no increase to base salary or step increase. When an organization in the private sector is facing such a budget crisis as D65 it usually develops a hiring and pay raise freeze not to mention bonuses. 

    Bottom line – D65 bureaucrats agreed to give teachers and custodians a pay hike in light of an alleged operating budget hole and have the gall and audacity to ask property owners to pony up another $14.5 million. 

    I want to know who's looking out for the hardworking property tax owners trying to make it in the heavily tax burdened and overregulated private sector? It ain't our local goverment. 

    I say vote out all the incumbents.

    1. Agree with Al
      If this referendum passes it will be a huge property tax increase on its own but throw in the 20 – 30 increase that is already planned it may be one of the biggest ever. Both property owners and renters will feel this one.

  3. Schools ? Parents ? Other ? Making successful students

    I don't doubt that there are good and very good teacher in the schools, but there are probably bad, very bad or "place holder" teachers. Teachers, administration and the press [and unions for keeping bad teachers in the system] bear a significant part  of the blame for not knowing who is good/bad.  We hear about the athletics,music and drama and bad test scores [esp. by minorities] but rarely about academic success [acceptance by top colleges, prizes such at Westinghouse science, inventions].

    That leaves some f us to wonder who is responsible for success. Teachers or parents who make sure their kids take good classes that challenge them, do their homework, get interested in learning, know what will be required to do well.  It is often said that schools teach [facts] but students must "learn" on their own, i.e. think and make  it a part of their lives.  Really good  teachers instill a love of learning, not just giving out facts—or indoctrination.

    I'd bet parents are 75% responsible for the students who get ahead.

  4. Evidence from PISA

    The most recent international results from PISA show the US in the middle of the pack and also suggest that neither small class size nor technology are necessary ingredients in the formula for successful schools. Committed, well-trained and supported  teachers make the difference.

    I am not sure how many  committed, well-trained and supported  teachers we have in District 65.  But I know that every teacher, committed or not, is well-compensated.  Until there is some real accountablity from every teacher, I cannot support this referendum.

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