Evanston/Skokie School District 65 officials Sunday unveiled two scenarios for revamping student attendance areas to reduce busing and fund construction of a new 5th Ward school.
Both alternatives call for closing the Bessie Rhodes magnet school.
One option would consolidate the Rhodes programs at the King Arts magnet school and have the new 5th Ward school serve grades K-8.
The other option would turn King Arts into a middle school and and have the new 5th Ward school serve grades K-5.
Under both those options students in the Skokie portion of the district would continue to attend Chute Middle School
During the webinar unveiling the plans, Superintendent Devon Horton said the projected declining enrollment in the district makes consolidation necessary.
He said having more students able to walk to their neighborhood schools will save enough money in reduced busing costs to fund construction of the new 5th Ward school without requiring voter approval of a referendum.
The plan would reverse the district’s half-century-old decision to bus students from the predominantly minority 5th Ward to achieve racial balance in the district.
He added that the Rhodes school has suffered a sharp enrollment decline in recent years and that the building “is pretty much at the end of its life.”
He said the recent Cordogan Clark facilities report indicates it would cost $18 million to replace the Rhodes building and $9.5 million to update and repair it.
“It’s my responsibility, and the board’s to make sure we have students and staff in buildings that are safe,” Horton said, adding that “our most marginalized black and brown students” are in the district’s most dilapidated buildings.
“We can’t keep operating in the same way,” the superintendent said. “We’re heading in the wrong direction if we maintain the square footage of space and the enrollment and quality of the buildings continues to decline.”
The proposals are to be presented at two more webinars this week and introduced at a school board committee meeting March 7, with adoption scheduled for the full board meeting March 14.
The changes, Horton said, would not go into effect until the 2024-25 school year — which would give the district time to build its planned new 5th Ward school.