When the Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board meets Monday evening, members will get a chance to see how the district’s projected financial situation has scored a dramatic turnaround.

Last August, the situation appeared to be grave, with projected operating deficits for the next two budget years—2012-13 and 2013-14—to be in the neighborhood of $3 to $4 million each year, due primarily to stagnant revenues coupled with rising expenditures and increasing enrollments.

To deal with an impending budget crisis, the administration convened a special citizens committee to analyze the situation and make recommendations, which it did in December without proposing anything more than minor changes.

But at the last regular board meeting on Jan. 23, Superintendent Hardy Murphy hinted that new projections call for the next two budget years to come in at breakeven without resorting to drastic austerity measures.

He and his staff are expected to provide details at Monday’s meeting, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

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. Something smells fishy at D65

    Sounds like Murphy and his loyal minions are greasing the books to try and ease voter fears and lure them to pass the $48 million bond referendum so they can build a Fifth Ward school that is clearly not needed.

    I hope board members ask the right questions such as "how high will D65's tax raise this year go?"

    Evanston raised taxes 11 percent in the last two years. Everyone I talked to said their property taxes went up again this year even though property values continued their descent.


    1. Same First Thought

      Murphy's definition of drastic cuts is no free coffee and donuts in the teachers lounge.

      Many government agencies have figured out they can hold their tax rates because Cook County raises the assessment of last years $ 400,000 home to $ 500,000 while the true market value has fallen to $ 300,000.
      Let's hope that the voters will have the courage to vote down new or increased spending on worthless projects

      It is apparent that our state government, county government, mayor, half our city council, and school boards lack that courage or have caved to politics.

      Vote NO on the new white elephant school referendum. Then vote the big spenders out of office at the next opportunity.

  2. Where’s the Money Coming From?

    How can they be going from projecting $3-$4 million deficits to breaking even without drastic reductions? What can have changed?

    The union contract is coming up for renewal this year, can Dr. Murphy's plans have something to do with a revised contract?

  3. D65’s miracle? Let’s not buy the story that D65 is selling

    Wow.  It's a miracle!  D65 is no longer projecting an operating deficit projected.  So D65 is telling us, don't worry, little taxpayers, you can afford a $48 million referendum for a school that isn't needed because D65 has plenty of money all of a sudden.

    Smells funny?  Agreed.  In fact, it reeks to the heavens.  But it is standard operating procedure for the con game that is D65.  It is the scam described above with soaring tax assessments while property values (you know, what you can actually get when you sell your house) have taken a nose dive.  Poof — magically, there is more money for D65 and other government entities.

    D65 wants you to hum that old song, don't worry, be happy.  Here's when I'll be happy — when this pointless, wasteful referendum gets the sound thumping that it deserves.  Please let's send a message to the thoughtless bureaucrats at D65.  Here is the message:  we are not falling for these con games and guilt trips any more while you pick our wallets clean.

    It's well past the time that D65 show some real results in student achievement.  And I don't mean that weak, watered-down, garbage ISAT test.  When a student is only "meeting expectations" on the ISATs, that student is not destined for college or career readiness. 

    Instead, that student is destined for career options of "clean up on aisle 5" or "do you want fries with that?"  No school district should brag that a high percentage of its students will qualify for jobs in food service or retail custodial jobs.  Yet that's what we hear D65 blowing its trumpet about — constantly.

    Consolidate D202 and D65 to bring real accountability in academic progress.  The cost savings will just be a bonus.

    1. Soaring tax assessments? 

      Soaring tax assessments?  Almost every property in EvanstonTownship recieved a lower assessment in 2010.  In 2009 every property in Evanston Township recieved a 4% reduction from the Cook County Assessor.  The assessment isn't the issue.  Property Tax levys are the issue.  The schools portion and the City of Evanston's portion make up 87 to 88% of an individuals property tax bill in Evanston.  Continued levy increases by these taxing bodies means everyone will pay more property taxes each year.  The state of Illinois has an over reliance on local property taxes to fund education.  Illinois is consistently among the lowest states in the USA for funding education at the State level.  Until we demand the State increases funding for education we will always pay more property taxes each and every year.

      1. Where’s the money?

        The State of Illinois doesn't have additional money. In fact, the State is in dire financial straits and is cutting. Listen to Governor Quinn's upcoming budget theatrics on February 22nd and watch your wallet. In the future, taxes are going up at the Federal Level, State Level, County Level, and City Level. There are too many fixed and growing costs that need to be paid. Property values and no income growth for taxpayers be damned, the government will continue to ask taxpayers for more tax dollars, and at the same time they'll cut services. Locally, look at the Branch Libraries, next up Noyes Cultural Center, and more recently, the Evanston Art Center. When is the Ecology Center going to be put on the chopping block. Remember, taxes in Evanston increased 8% and fees on many services also went up.

        Given this environment, should there even be a question about the rationale for the current Evanston Township structure? Eliminate the Township, save $300,000 – $400,000 EACH and EVERY Year, and provide the same services to people who need them.

        The School referendum is more complex, but it would be helpful if we had accurate information on which to base a decision. Do we really need the new space at the schools or do we just want new space? Enrollment projections seem in flux, a disconcerting issue. How will our current stretched budget handle this new school? Interesting to see how the budget problems are so quickly fixed. Last i heard, the Fiscal 2012/2013 deficit was $3.4mm and scheduled to grow to $8.8mm by Fiscal 2015/2016. And that's before the referendum, and before the operating costs for the new school, and before the new teacher contract, and before other growing expenses.Yes, the timing of budgetary improvement is suspicious. Let's see the numbers, analysis, and assumptions which are released February 13th.

        Lastly and most importantly, how is this new school going to impact student achievement? Last time i saw, student performance at Oakton Elementary School was the lowest in the district, but has the highest level of low income students at almost 70%. So how will the 5th ward school which will be almost 90% low income provide an environment in which all students can achieve success?

        Raising taxes and furthering the financial burden on lower and middle income Evanstonians is Social Injustice.

        1. Good points

          You raise some good points, Mr. Paine, and all of the answers can be found here.  http://www.district65.net/

          It's just harder to take the time to read and discover the truth than to make stuff up.

          Yes, we need more space in the district.  There were many meetings (open to the public) dedicated to this topic and the concensus was that we need space.  The projections say we do and the past four years even more students showed up than projected so I'd say that's a trend. 

          Oakton has a higher percentage of low income kids in the district than other schools and their overall test scores are lower.  However the low income kids at Oakton score the same or better than the low income kids at other schools.  The low income kids in the district do about the same no matter what school they attend.  The statistics can be found at the above website.

          Finally, the cost.  If your home is worth $800,000 (lucky you!) you will pay about $260 per year for the referendum.  That's $21.67 a month for additions at two of the middle schools, capital improvements at the other middle school and the magnets, new middle school science STEM labs, and a new K – 5 school to alleviate overcrowding.  If your house is worth $400,000 that number drops to about $130.   Frankly I think the negative impact of large classrooms, overcrowded and outdated buildings and subpar science curriculm will have a larger impact on property values than paying for the referendum.  That's the conclusion I've come to after researching the issue. 

      2. Soaring assessments is a problem

        Soaring assessments is a problem because taxing bodies like schools, couinty, and city continue to brag how they have held their tax rate. 2010 properity taxes paid in 2011 rose almost 10% in total in the evanston area. Most of this was due to increased assessments and most of the rates held steady from the previous year.

        In the past 5 years, property values have plunged over 20% in our area while county assessment values have climbed about 10%. About the only way around this is to hire a law firm that has connections to the right people. If you try lowering your assessment without the right law firm, the chances are that you will fail.

        If housing assessments today were based on the assessment value of 2006, you would see huge increases of tax rates on your 2nd installment tax bills and the dirty little secret of the taxing bodies would be seen in the light of day.

  4. Despite the fact that the financial projections were way off…

    … I am sure that D65's enrollment projections (you know, the ones that have the population of school-age kids booming over the next few years despite no gain in the overall population of Evanston) are spot-on accurate. 

  5. I am worried

    I just moved to Evanston this summer, and have a child who will be attending district 65 in a few years. From my talks with neighbors, I learn that class sizes are getting bigger and programs (like special education) are not being supported at desirable levels. (One child I know does not have an aide for the amount of minutes required in his special education plan.)

    Why are we going to raise taxes and increase costs when we aren't spending money to nurture the programs we currently have (the arts, special education, technology, etc.)? I worry that we will build a new school and then we won't have money to pay the teachers what they deserve and keep quality programs running smoothly.

  6. School enrollment and Chicago ‘Parent Trap’

    The latest Crains Chicago Business 'Parent Trap' raises an issue that may very well affect Evanston school enrollment [and population].

    It refers to the low housing prices [and other related problems] meaning that Chicago familes who had bought condos/houses in better times and expected to move to the suburbs when they had kids, now not able to sell and move.   This has led some parents to decide they need to fight for improvements to the schools they have.   Some are happy with the schoolls [or trend] and may stay even if/when markets improve.

     Evanston might be one of the ['starter'] communities.  Are the 'projected' Evanston enrollments based on old or bad projections of getting Chicago residents ?  If so they could be off the mark.

    What happens if the markets turn around [not expected for several years] ?  By that time Chicago residents in the 'Parent Trap' may have made sure their schools are now good and stay.  Will Evanston residents feel our schools are what they should be and want to stay ?  Will Evanston residents be able to sell their houses/condos for enough to move to Wilmette, Highland Park, etc. or feel they paid too much originally and seek more reasonable housing prices like in parts of Chicago, Skokie or farther out ?

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