When the Citizens Ad Hoc Budget Committee delivered its report Monday to the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board, its chairman, Mark Sloane, was quick to point out that its 30 budget-cutting ideas were merely “potential solutions” and not actual recommendations.

While he listed just a few of them in his oral presentation, the written report spells them out in some greater detail.

The first three pertain to salary structure reform:

1. Structurally reduce the growth in salary expense by changing base-step salary structure to contain a single seniority/cost of living increase and changing the track system to incorporate performance metrics.

2.  Consider ways to limit the rate of growth in salaries so it does not exceed the rate of
growth in revenues. For example, tie raises to the consumer price index.

3. Consider a temporary salary and hiring freeze.

The next five address the rising cost of employee benefits:

4. Negotiate wellness initiatives/incentives with health care providers.

5. Audit health insurance beneficiaries.

6. Revisit approach to insurance plan design.

7. Reduce benefits for new hires.

8. Limit rate of growth in employee health benefits.In a special note, the committee suggested that salaries and benefits be considered together when examining costs across the district, especially when negotiating with the teachers union.

The next five suggest that resources be leveraged to reduce staff-to-student ratios:

9. Allow attrition, rather than filling positions vacated due to retirement, relocations, and the like, as a tool to reduce the number of employees.

10. Maintain certified support staff at nationally?recognized standard levels. Currently, the report notes, the district has a higher ratio of support staff than national standards recommend.

11. Use class size guidelines to staff District 65, which may increase class size by two or three students.

12. Seek strategic support in the classroom from Northwestern University or other institutions of higher learning.

13. Leverage technological innovations.

14. Consider the financial and educational feasibility of merging District 65 and District 202 to save duplicative costs while enhancing educational continuity.

The next six focus on possible revenue enhancements:

15. Work with the City of Evanston and Village of Skokie to develop strategies to
encourage economic development that adds high property tax value to tax rolls.

16. Collaborate with the City of Evanston in its efforts to assess tax exempt status of

17. Explore alternative investment strategies for fund balances.

18. Approach the City of Evanston for TIF revenues.

19. Seek payments in lieu of taxes from Northwestern University. Because the district and the university share a common mission, education, it makes more sense for the university to contribute to local school districts than to the municipality. Also, the committee contends that a strong public school system helps the university attract and retain faculty and staff.

20. Seek philanthropic support.

21. Lease or sell District 65 unused or underutilized assets, such as the land just north of the district headquarters.

22. Propose a referendum to override the property tax cap. As it turns out, this potential solution is currently under consideration by the Board. Sloane, however, said that this should be the district’s option of last resort.

The final category involves possible expense reductions:

23. Ask District 65 employees for their ideas to reduce expenditures, increase
productivity, or increase revenues.

24. Seek to streamline processes, such as offering paperless registration.

25. Review previous report produced by consultant/efficiency expert to examine
district processes and procedures which can improve efficiency.

26. Reduce absenteeism and substitute teacher costs in partnership with bargaining

27. Provide early retirement incentives.

28. Reduce the costs associated with enrichment programs.

29. Reduce the transportation budget by considering, for example, alternative bus-service providers and alternative transportation modes.

30. End subsidization of union leadership. Currently, the district pays the fulltime salary and benefits of the union president while on leave to lead union activities. In exchange, the union pays District 65 the salary of a Track II, Step I teacher. The committee recommends putting the union president on unpaid leave and letting the union pay its president a salary and benefits.

At Monday’s meeting, the Board thanked the committee members for their work on the budget and referred the report to its Finance Committee for further action, without commenting on specific recommendations.

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. Sounds Good

    Most of the top 30 sound pretty good, especially the parts about reducing expenses and no longer treating the unions like royalty.
    In the past 40 years, when the school board found itself with excess revenue, they have found new ways to spend it until they found themselves in deficit mode and looking for more revenue…….. And then the process repeats itself.

  2. “The district has a higher

    "The district has a higher ration of support staff than national standards recommend."

    How is support staff defined? Is this referring to classroom aides? If so, I hope that the decision makers are aware that D65 has some classrooms in which 30% of students have special needs (with the inclusion program). To take away aides & leave that many students without needed support would be disadvantageous for all.

    1. Personally

      I would vote for a referendum to support the level of education we currently have.  Support staff is needed and small classrooms are important to our diverse learners.

  3. I still think we need to

    I still think we need to seriously consider merging D65 202. Seeing the incredible disparity between the two academically is disheartening. It will save on duplicate costs in admin and facilities and give our children one consistent path to higher education. It is truly the only way we will close the achievement gap and get a handle on rising costs.

    1. I like the idea, but heard

      I like the idea, but heard somewhere that merging would increase costs (because we'd have to pay the K-8 teachers more, given that their 9-12 colleagues make significantly more). Does anyone know if this is true? 

      1. 65-202 merger

        This is potentially true on the teacher salary side of things–that is, that 202 teachers have a higher pay scale and that the unions would likely only support a merger if it meant everyone were paid on that scale. I'm not a school finance expert, but as I understand the issue, it would be possible to ease that transition by scaling up to parity over time. (Side note: I'm unsettled by the fact that we pay HS teachers more than elementary and middle school teachers in this city. Sends the wrong message.)

        In terms of administration and support staff, a merger could mean significant savings. It would be interesting to  compare the costs currently sustained in 202 and 65, respectively, with those in a Chicagoland area K-12 district of comparable size.

        At the very least, it would be well worth both districts' time and taxpayer money to conduct a merger feasibility study, even if the conclusion was that it would be financially irresponsible. At least we'd know.

        My biggest problem with having two school districts is that we have two school boards. How productive has that been? We do not need 14 elected positions (and 14 agendas) to manage public education for 9,000-ish kids. 

        1. Equal pay for all K-12 and college teachers ?

          You said "(Side note: I'm unsettled by the fact that we pay HS teachers more than elementary and middle school teachers in this city. Sends the wrong message.)"


          Would you support paying college teachers the same as K-12 teachers ? Or even have them paid the same as kindergarten teachers or visa versa ?

          1. Red herring

            Red herring.

            HIgher ed teaching salaries have nothing to do with this issue. For starters, public colleges and universities have different funding sources than local K-12 education. Higher ed teaching positions can also involve philanthropic sources (e.g., endowed chairs) and can be supplemented by consulting, certain publishing opportunities, etc. The teaching load and responsibitlies of a typical higher ed teaching position aren't comparable those of a K-12 teacher. (Not making a better/harder comparison there–just noting that they are completely different animals–as anyone with experience in either or both knows well.)

            That said, the starting salaries for college professors at state colleges/universities actually are comparable (usually around $45,000-$55,000, depending) to K-12. Law and medicine are exceptions, but again, the varied funding sources impact that. If any

            If any comparison could be made, the closest thing would be to community colleges. But anyone who follows the ongoing national debate on K-12 teacher pay understands that higher ed teaching is not a part of that discussion, for the above and other obvious reasons.

            Having been in both K-12 and higher ed teaching positions, I can confirm that particularly on a day-to-day basis, K-12 teaching is much, much harder.

            The respondent above seems to scoff at the idea of a Kindergarten teacher making as much as (or more than)  a university professor. Sounds like someone could use a week in a classroom of five-year-olds.

        2. It is not true that k – 8

          It is not true that k – 8 teacher salaries would go be cause of the merger. Do you think the merger would automatically nullify the current contracts. If it did, it would be the chance for the new district to bargain for low salaries for the high school teachers, especially since Evanston High's state rankings have been in decline for the last 20 years.
          Also, why would the unions have a say in the merger. If they do, it tells us that something is terribly wrong in this district.
          There are other districts in the state that have undergone mergers. What I have read is that they have been successful in reducing costs. Why would anybody want to compare Evanston and Chicago in regards to schools. Chicago schools have been a failure, for the most part, for many decades.
          Evanston has a chance to do something that would benefit the students rather than the unions.

          1. Pay differences (and potential savings?) in 65 and 202

            Hi Skip,

            I didn't say it would be automatic (and I also said "potentially"). I was trying to clarify the reasoning behind past arguments against a merger.

            Still, it's a good point you make that because a new district would be created, there would be a new contract for everyone. Of course union approval isn't needed for a merger, but remember that first and foremost, a union is a bargaining agent. Either/both unions could make a merger very difficult by taking a number of actions if they think it will result in them getting less than they should. (And wouldn't both unions have to merge, too? What would that look like or involve?)

            FYI, according to the current (2011-2012) salary schedules for both districts, a D202 teacher at Step 1 makes $50,731, while a D65 at Step 1-Track 1 makes $44,990. (The D65 amount includes retirement contribution. Not sure if the D202 amount does.)

            The gap increases over the course of a teacher's career in the respective districts, so that the difference in each district between the salaries of teachers with the most graduate credit and most experience is over $20,000. Wow. Looks like there are some significant savings to be had by freezing/adjusting the HS salary schedule in the event of a merger. The current economic climate certainly provides the impetus for doing so.

            Again, simply as a matter of principle, I'm uncomfortable with the AP Physics teacher being paid more than the Kindergarten teacher. One is no less important than the other. In fact, there is some interesting analysis that suggests the Kindergarten teacher should be paid more than anyone! (See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/business/economy/28leonhardt.html)  🙂 

            Even the D65 haters out there would be hard-pressed to justify such a pay gap. In any case, let's avoid suggesting that teachers at a public school with a so-called "better reputation" be paid more than teachers at any other school in our fair city.

            Re: a decline in state rankings for ETHS–As far as I know, 20 years ago (pre-NCLB) rankings/lists of the state's "best" high schools did not take the performance of ALL students into account, like they do today. Any such lists likely allowed schools to rest on the laurels of their highest achievers without having to account for the performance of anyone else. So, what you've characterized as a "decline," I'd call a "discovery."

            Having ONE school board surely would help alleivate the many challenges that result from the high school being a self-contained district.

            And I couldn't agree more, Skip, than the biggest beneficiaries of a merger would be THE STUDENTS.



          2. Good points

            You made some good points.

            I think that they should lower the physics teacher salary and raise the kindergarten teacher salary. It is obvious that teaching kindergarten is a much harder job. Besides many physics teachers have a lot of free time and often consult as a second job.

            I believe them high school ranking was based on state testing now as well as 40 50 years ago. Evanston was ranked in the top 5 and top 10 for many years. Now ETHS is not in the top 50. Is the same testing being used, now and then? I don't know.

            I'm sure that the majority of teachers in 65 and 202 are fine teachers but the current way of dealing with unions make it extremely difficult to get rid of  bad teachers.

            Thanks for your feedback. It gave me a new perspective.

    2. What is really the disparity?

      DPrice, can you please clarify the "incredible disparity" between D65 and 202?  I read on this site awhile back that 65 met AYP but 202 did not.  I thought the biggest difference between them (besides the pay scale) is that 65 lumps everyone in the same class, including the behavior problems, while 202 weeds them out and tracks students, providing for a different learning enviroment.  I am all for consolidation of the two Districts, (and then they can avoid building a new school by using that new 65 Administration Building as the "new school,") but I'm not sure we have all the facts about which District should or will end up looking more like the other.

      1. Differences Between D65 & D202

        Wow, MJ you are really out of touch with the schools. First, meeting AYP is hardly the measure of success of a school district. In fact, AYP is measured school by school, so it is totally inaccurate to say that D65 did and D202 didn't. Some D65 schools did, some didn't.

        More importantly, the metric used to measure AYP for the two districts is different. D65 uses the ISAT which has a very low bar for meeting standards. D202 uses the PSAE, which is mapped to the ACT. Hence DPrice's comments about the disparities between the two districts. D65 has been sending kids to the high school unprepared to do high school level work, while priding themselves on how well their kids are doing on the ISATs.

        Yes, D65 "lumps all the kids together." But apparently you haven't been paying attention to changes at ETHS. THey are moving to the same model (while at the same time telling people that "all classes will be taught at the honors level.") Yes, they still pull out a separate track of kids who can't read at grade level in 9th grade. How many kids is that? 10-20%

        In a nutshell, the two districts are looking more and more like each other every day. And that isn't a good thing.


        1. What are the Differences?

          Thanks for responding, (and I may very well be out of touch,) but I am still unclear about the disparity.

          If you can't compare AYP for 202 and 65, then what metric are you using to support the contention that there is a difference?  What is the data? I'm not saying DPrice is wrong; I would just like to see something other than the usual D65 bashing.

          It is clear that a few people out there hold ETHS in higher regard that the elementary and middle schools.  Why is that?  Is there valid evidence to suggest that the students who struggle in 65 become more successful in 202?  Has there been any data released about struggling students at ETHS?

          I thought that the whole reason they were getting rid of tracking honors only was because they can't figure out a solution for the struggling students, either.  (It doesn't seem like anyone has a solution to that problem.)  What is it that ETHS does so well that people would like to see emulated by 65?

          1. I think some people (I’m not

            I think some people (I'm not one of them) would like to see tracking at the middle school and some version thereof in the elementaries.

            Fact is, the D65 middle schools have always had a kind of de facto tracking because students are leveled for math. That is, due to the way scheduling works, students enrolled in the highest math classes are together pretty much all day–and, I'm guessing, are consistently the beneficiaries of smaller class sizes.

          2. Accelerated not levelled

            The only math course that is levelled in D65 is algebra.

            Some students are accelerated (e.g. skip a math course), but then they are enrolled in heterogeneous, not ability grouped classes.   That means there are some 6th graders, for example, taking  Math 7 along with most seventh graders.

          3. Plenty of Data


            I don't know that there is any evidence that students who are struggling in D65 do any better in D202. They actually are put into separate tracks (those who can't read at grade level) and the school is throwing A LOT of supports at them.

            But the gist of it is that kids walk into ETHS unprepared and the lack of preparation has to be the result of their education in D65.

            It should also be noted that the metric for meeting AYP increases each year and will be at 100% in 2014. It is not very surprising that the school(s) do not meet AYP year after year – it's hard to meet a bar that keeps being raised. Particularly when you compare different cohorts year after year.

        2. Clarification

          Clarification: Both districts use the metric required by Illinois law. Neither one chooses its test.

          Also, the PSAE IS the ACT, supplemented by two Work Keys assessments from the College Board, and an ISBE-created science assessment. (Illinois is one of two states (Colorado is the other) that uses the ACT as its accountability test.) So to say it's "mapped to the ACT" isn't quite right. That phrase better applies to the EXPLORE test, which all D65 8th graders take, as its designed that way by the College Board (i.e., to be a "junior" ACT).



          1. Point Taken

            Thanks for the clarifiication, The point remains, the ISAT and the PSAE are different tests with different standards. K-8 students (well, 3-8 since they don't take the ISATs till 3rd grade) are given tests with lower standards than 11th grade students (the only students at ETHS tested for AYP).

            The whole NCLB testing process is flawed from the start. Every state uses a different metric. They do not assess the same cohorts each year, so there is no way to measure growth for that group.

            But D65 students are held to a lower standard and D65 seems content to ensure that students do no more than meet that standard. If they had a board goal that said "x % of students to exceed standards on the ISAT each year," then they'd be working to deliver the most qualified students to ETHS each year.

      2. Another reason to merge 202 and 65–the students!

        To me, the most compelling reason to merge the districts is that it would mean alignment between the two would be necessary, not voluntary as it is currently.

        The two districts have had very different standards, and 65 has consistently reached for the lowest possible benchmark.  In fact, many students are passed from grade to grade while not performing at grade level, which is why so many students (I think 1 in 7) need remedial education when they get to 202.  And why so many drop out.

        On the pay side, there may be a number of reasons why high school teachers earn more than elementary.  Last I checked class sizes were, on average, a lot bigger.

        1. Practically speaking, they

          Practically speaking, they earn more because their union has negotiated a higher pay scale.

          In K-12 districts, all teachers are on the same scale.

        2. Retaining students

          Your assertion that passing students from grade to grade is the explanation for a high dropout rate is not supported by any evidence.  It's  just another of the canards that know-nothings pass along as "common knowledge" that is quite common but not knowledge.

          In fact, a student who is retained once in grade school has an almost 70% higher chance of dropping out of school than one who has not been retained.

          Holding children back, or avoiding what you probably call "social promotion" is one of the best ways to ensure that students will not finish high school.

          To be sure, there are a number of instructional and curricular problems that should be addressed in the schools today, and if principals were given the latitude to be the instructional leaders in their schools, rather than bean-counting test monitors, they might be able to make a little headway into those problems.

          But your short-sighted solution ("retain 'em all!) is hardly the route to an improved educational system. 

  4. More than just “belt-tightening”

    It's easy to compare D65's expenditures to other school districts and to find them wanting, but in order to do that accurately, you have to account for the unique makeup of Evanston's student body and their particular needs.

    Evanston has a special needs population that is very likely much larger than the District admits. Appropriate service is significantly less expensive than lawsuits; as more parents learn their rights, more are going to hold the schools accountable.  If you've never been inside a D65 school, the numbers may seem high, but let me assure you: there is not enough staff to meet the legal requirements for many schools and classrooms. 

    Our inability to close the achievement gap also costs money.  Schools that don't meet AYP require interventions that are exponentially more expensive for every year they hold that designation. In my opinion as a current D65 parent, cuts to staff and services are pennywise and pound-foolish.

    Consider this: we live in Evanston because we believe it is special.  We value things like an educated populace, a responsive government, a well-maintained infrastructure, a beautiful lakefront, safety in our homes and on our streets, standards for well-maintained property, clean water, access for all to recreation, parks, libraries and health services.

    We forget that none of those things are free. Responsible taxpayers should check to make sure we get every penny of what we're paying for, but I doubt sincerely that there is enough frivolity or waste to make budget cuts a viable money management option. It is a fiction that we can significantly cut budgets without giving up specific services – and schools, in particular, have very limited options on which services are and are not legal obligations.

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