Less than a week after asking the community how the school district’s budget should be cut in upcoming years, Evanston/Skokie District 65 is putting on the brakes.

In a letter posted on the district’s website, Superintendent Devon Horton said “We have made the decision to pause our budget survey in order to re-evaluate for clarity and use of an equity lens.”

District 65 faces growing budget deficits over the next several years, heading towards $15 million in red ink by the 2025-26 school year unless reductions are made.

The online survey had asked parents, teachers, students, and other community
members to prioritize what school services and programs are most worth preserving, as well as asking about potential sources of new revenue, such as selling ads on school buses.

Horton said while the district wants and values community input and participation, in this case “we moved too swiftly” and said “I apologize.” The superintendent said getting “diversity in perspective, and “especially engaging with those who have historically been excluded” from the budget process will “add unique value to the community.”

He thanked those who have already responded to the survey, and said their answers will be inventoried and maintained for future planning. A “stronger and more coherent” survey will be developed, he said, and the community will be notified when that is ready.

Whatever that new survey turns out to be, it will deal with medium and long term budget questions, as did the survey which was halted. Separately and short term, the District 65 Board of Education will decide on $1.9 million in cuts next month for the upcoming school year.

This Thursday, District 65’s long-awaited hybrid school model is set to begin, after two snow day cancellations. About half of the 7,000-plus students in the K-8 system will attend school in person, while the rest will remain on remote learning.

The superintendent did have some unexpected good news about the hybrid system. Earlier this month, some families had been told that instrumental music and reading support would be suspended in order to have enough staff for hybrid school. But now, Horton said, there is “wonderful news” that there will be adequate staffing, so instrumental music and reading support will stay.

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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