District 65 offices at the JEH Education Center.

Evanston Now has obtained documents showing that School District 65 has paid more than $350,000 for round-the-clock bodyguards for Superintendent Devon Horton since last summer.

Horton mentioned the bodyguards during a Board of Education meeting on May 23, saying “I sit here with armed security 24 hours a day.”

However, no details were given about the cost and who is providing the service, so Evanston Now filed a Freedom of Information request with the district.

Documents received show that an existing contract with Skokie-based Phoenix Security (which has been providing unarmed security for the district for a number of years), was amended on July 1, 2021, for “Executive protection.”

The pay rate for that protection is $65 per hour, round the clock, 7 days a week, except on holidays, when it is time-and-a-half, or $97.50 per hour.

Based on invoices in the document packet, the first day for armed bodyguards for the superintendent was July 26, 2021. While the monthly total varies slightly based on whether it’s a 28, 30, or 31 day month, or if there are any holidays, the district’s monthly expense is usually in the $47,000-$48,000 range. It adds up to $356,395 since the amended contract was signed.

For unarmed security services, Phoenix is generally paid between $25 and $37.50 an hour per person, for security guards at District 65 school board meetings, elections when polling places are at schools, and general security at the administration building (although many of the administration building hours were apparently eliminated after armed security for the superintendent began).

Phoenix is also paid a flat $3,534 monthly rate for weekend and holiday building checks, to make sure no one has broken in, there is no vandalism or to discover potential maintenance emergencies.

Based on a required vendor expense report submitted to the state of Illinois, District 65 paid Phoenix Security $97,460 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. The modified contract with “Executive protection” took effect the next day.

District 65 officials first reported receiving racist and hateful mail and email during COVID in Fall 2020. About a dozen communications were sent to Horton, to board members, and to some other school administrators, after a news story went national about the potential return to in-person classes and the district’s effort to reduce the racial achievement gap.

Later, a homophobic note was discovered in the car of board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan.

The hate mail and homophobic note were all reported to police, but no one was ever arrested.

Then, in January 2021, just before the school board went into private session to discuss security, Horton said district “board members and administrators get attacked via email and postcards with death threats.”

Then-board president Anya Tanyavutti also referred to “veiled death threats.”

In July 2021, in a website posting, Horton said he received “two voice mail messages containing racial slurs and threats of bodily harm,” and also stated that his “car window was broken while parked in a District lot by what appeared to be an intentional act of vandalism.”

Again, police were notified, but no one has been caught.

That website posting was on July 10. The first day for round-the-clock bodyguards, based on the invoices, was July 26.

The amended contract with “Executive protection” runs through the end of this month, so the District 65 school board will have to decide whether to renew it, and, if so, under what terms.

It is also possible that the total cost since last summer is more than $356,395.

Documents provided under the Freedom of Information request by the district did not include monthly “Executive protection” invoices for either September 2021 or January 2022. There was also no such invoice for Nov. 1-7, 2021 and Aug. 16-31, 2021.

If bodyguard services for those periods actually were provided, that would add roughly another $130,000 to the security tab for the superintendent.

Evanston Now plans to ask the district if invoices for those periods were omitted, or, if there were no bodyguard services for those times. And, if there were no such services for certain times within the contract period, why not?

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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38 Comments

  1. Wake up Evanston and vote in next year’s Board election so we can get rid of this con via new board members. That he was threatened appears to be uncorroborated. The EPD publicized that (EPD) calls to Horton regarding the alleged threats were not returned. Horton’s reign at D65 should be entitled “Follow the Money,” because that’s what he is about in addition to (presumably) our town serving as his launching pad for a national role. Number one rule in his playbook? Criticize me and I, along with my proxies, will threaten to/call you racist. It’s worked so far. This man has brought our kids’ educational achievement down and apparently diminished their opportunities, and if 202’s expressed concerns about preparedness and test scores indicate, the kids are continuing on a downward trajectory. All while he is profiting beautifully from his increasingly obvious incompetency.

    1. My neighbors and I have reached the point where we’d rather be called racist than continue to watch people like Reid and Horton drag down this city. There’s so much potential here yet we squander it in order to appease and pander to 15% of our population. And by the way, we’ve been all for initiatives to support this population but the sense of entitlement has simply gone too far. I’m moving out of state but keeping a home here. I’ll let Horton call me a racist in lieu of him and his cronies continuing to suppress property values and raise our taxes for their fringe desires. Enough is enough. Glad voters here seem to be waking up and we can end this failed experiment.

    2. He is 1000% using Evanston as the launching pad to getting a superintendent job at a bigger school district or the federal government. Someone help him find that job and get him out of here!

    3. Happy to vote them out next spring but we need candidates to vote into office in their place. Hopefully we have a fresh slate of like-minded, sane and rational candidates who are willing to do the difficult task of cleaning house and righting the ship.

  2. I cannot wait to vote against this board in the next D65 Election. The board and this Horton are just absolutely trashing the school district’s finances for their own personal political gain.

    First, they re-allocate a full 1% of the D65 budget to the “Equity” department, which seems to mostly consist of expensive consultants pumping out crappy curriculum. Go look at the content for yourself and tell me this is going to move the ball on equity in any meaningful way:
    https://sites.google.com/district65.net/d65equityweeks/home?authuser=0

    You can be 1000% pro-equity and still think this content sucks and is a massive waste of money.

    Then we get a letter to parents telling us our 5 year old is racist and links to things like this:
    https://sites.google.com/district65.net/d65equityweeks/resources?authuser=0

    Then he blows up the size of his own administrative division, again full of consultants and now apparently a private security force, while at the same time cutting the budgets of the K-5 reading specialists and teacher pension contributions? My own kid’s reading specialist got canned in that last round. All at the same time while enrollment plummets?!

    If we re-elect this board, we’re going to go bankrupt and we deserve it.

    1. If you actually read the article that you linked to, it doesn’t say that your 5 year old is racist. It talks about racial bias and how at a very young age, studies have shown, we favor people that look like us. Calm down and read more than the headlines.

      1. Meh. It’s still not appropriate to send to parents when making a case for why we need to can 4 weeks of reading/math and replace with this expensive poorly-done anti-racist curriculum.

  3. That’s a lot of money. Money that could be sent to have security in the middle schools. Maybe a Dean. Maybe something that’s for students. But nope. They just cut teachers. How many teachers could we pay for 50k a month? Quite a few I bet. Yet we throw the money so the emperor can feel safe. He needs to feel safe, not your children in the school. There he allows members of the community to show up with bullhorns and harass your children. He allows for over the top violence in the schools. But don’t worry, he’s safe.

    What other hired government leader has paid for by the taxpayer 24 hour security? Now do a story on how much they spend on consultants. I bet it matches this amount of not more. See where that money is going, I’m sure not to people he has connections to in any way. He openly promotes his own consulting firm on the district page so who knows.

    Sure seems like to me that make believe controversies are used as a Trojan Horse to take the money. Pay those student fees parents, father has to FEEL safe and his friends need money asap.

  4. Due respect, but Superintendent Horton’s security isn’t what costs $50K a month. It’s the sick comments, vile actions and genuinely dangerous threats directed at him that costs $50K a month. It’s racism and white supremacy that costs $50K a month. It’s our inability or unwillingness to look at the bad actors instead of the victim they pursue that costs $50K a month. (Oh yeah… it also costs us civility, community and social progress.)

    1. All due respect Scott, it doesn’t change the fact that the current superintendent has a bloated administration, accuses all critics of being racist, and is effectively ruining D65 for ALL students. He is not an educator but an activist. It does not excuse any racist, uncivil comments directed at him but the fact remains he and the Board need to be replaced ASAP.

    2. What racial language are you even referring too this says nothing has happened

      It’s all because he’s black right . Nothing else matters like stats.

    3. Scott, the threats are not corroborated. Horton did not return EPD phone calls. There is only Horton’s speak: I was threatened. It’s nonsense associated with a calculated end. Part of Horton’s playbook? Divide citizens among two groups: the racist and none racists. Anyone who disagrees with him is a racist, anyone who supports teachers is a racist, anyone who questions curricula is a racist. He’s distracted a group of Evanstonians with his racist witch-hunt to the point that these folks are sacrificing their children’s educations to be part of a movement that’s going nowhere but to Horton’s and his cronies’ bank accounts. Would these folks engage themselves outside of Horton’s, et al’s, speak, they might see that folks CPS fired for strong reasons are now in charge of Dist 65 curricula/departments, that beloved and valuable administrators have left the district in droves or Horton fired then to be replaced by incompetent cronies (talk to families at Willard, Dewey, and Washington, for Starters), and that THOUSANDS of students have left the district under Horton’s leadership. Are all these folks who’ve left racist? Rhetorical question. Wake up. Google Horton, Chicago, and taxes. Next, pull up Cook County civil court judgments entered against him. Is this the person best in charge of the massive district 65 budget? Please exercise diligence and review facts rather than Horton’s nonsense before it’s too late.

      1. Horton’s removal of beloved and established educators is unacceptable, and we can agree on that. Please do not, however, impugn the character of all of the new principals with the same brush. I was deeply saddened and disappointed that our beloved Principal Ellison was pushed out by Horton, but I don’t fault Principal Cardenas-Lopez for that, and it is entirely unfair to call her an incompetent crony. Mr Succes’s replacement at Willard, on the other hand . . .

    4. I’m not going to comment on the need for security, but the cost is crazy – about half of what multi-millionaire celebrities command for a 24-hour detail. And he hasn’t offered a real justification for it.

      Who serves in his security detail? Please follow the money.

    5. “It’s our inability or unwillingness to look at the bad actors” – what does this even mean? How do you propose doing this?

  5. In this day and age, threats to elected officials, senior officials, and leaders in general are not uncommon. Standard protocol is for the police to be notified and to conduct a threat assessment. Did this occur in Horton’s case? If so, did EPD determine the emails and voicemails to be a credible threat? If so, did EPD refuse to provide protection or tell the Superintendent and School Board to get their own protection? If the threat assessment was not found to be credible, why did the Board move forward with 24 hour a day, 365 day a year executive protection? Additionally, if it was initially determined that there was a credible security threat to the Superintendent, have they periodically updated that assessment to determine if the threat still exists?

    Sadly, we are living in a time when any wingnut anywhere in the world can send an email or leave a voicemail threatening anyone. Violent speech is on the rise and it’s undoubtedly scary when you are on the receiving end of these threats. Still, there must be a process to decipher whether those threats are local, real, and the target and his or her family is in imminent danger. Without that type of assessment we would need to provide secret service type protection to practically every senior government official these days, including those in public health, education, and elections.

    1. This is a good point. The world is full of angry people who can get away with saying things in email and voicemails they would never say to someone’s face. Putting up with it is, to some extent, part of what people in office sign up for. The security measures Dr. Horton thinks he needs feel overblown, and to some extent, attention-seeking.

  6. So we have this kind of money to spend on security for Dr. Horton but we don’t have money to repair and upgrade our schools that were reported as being in poor condition and in need of repairs?
    https://evanstonnow.com/report-d65-schools-in-poor-condition/ If he keeps this security for the next five years of his contract, it will cost the school district $1,781,975 on the low end and $2,431,975 on the high end not including future cost increases. It seems like there should be some checks and balances on this kind of spending.

    This kind of spending on a person who has deteriorated the quality of education in our schools is beyond frustrating. My 3rd grader brought home her practically unused science work books (16 out of 77 pages filled out in one, and 10 out of 103 in the other) so I inquired to the teacher why they weren’t taught an adequate amount of science this year. The teacher responded that there were 4 weeks of “equity” curriculum including LGBTQ and BLM which took place during science/social studies time. As well as many restorative justice circles during science time every time there is a squabble among a few of the students. I don’t blame the teacher for this, as all of these directives come from D65 leadership. Leaders like Horton would rather have our children indoctrinated with political, ideological and gender questioning ideas than an actual school subject like science. Furthermore, this idea of having restorative justice circles during science time doesn’t make sense. Instead, they should have the specific students involved in the squabble have their own restorative justice circle with the principal during recess time. This would require our Principal to actually have to spend time with students, which doesn’t really seem to be a thing with her, but change needs to happen.

  7. I sincerely hope that he didn’t cause any loaded firearms to be carried onto our school property. We already have a crisis of young men being enamored with gun culture. This machismo gimmick only makes the problem worse. Not even mentioning the gross missapropriation of our precious limited education resources.

  8. It is always important to recognize in discussions about Horton’s performance that he was chosen with ZERO public input. In 2019 the final candidates were selected and interviewed in secret.

    A couple of weeks later the board disclosed that all of the candidates except one dropped out of consideration. Horton was the last man standing and then he was hired, and the contract signed before he was ever named.

    This was against precedent. When Murphy and Goren were hired, both times three candidates were brought in for public meetings before the final candidates were hired.

    Had Horton’s name been publicized, simple google searches would have brought up a bunch of information that could have informed independent, citizen questions and comments. We could have also seen what the field looked like. Horton had never served as a superintendent before and his previous districts were not known for being the most academically stellar.

    The ultimate culprit here is the board of education. Citizens need to really take a close look at the candidates next year.

    1. The problem is our election system ensures that the candidates who scrape by with the thinnest plurality of votes can win. Look at the 2021 results:
      https://results421.cookcountyclerkil.gov/Certificates.aspx?eid=40621&rid=808&cook=True

      It’s the same problem nationally with the most extreme candidates winning primaries because they can get the most angry/fired up base to show up for them.

      Biss is right to suggest we need ranked choice voting (RCV) in Evanston.

  9. As a minority member..im so sick and tired of district 65 board members. This just goes over the top.
    They are a joke.

  10. So for one month security costs for questionable threats (and last I’ve seen it’s teachers and students getting killed, not superintendents) we could have Camp Timberlee for ALL of our 5th grade students. This was an outdoor education program that for decades has provided equitable, valuable, educational experiences for all of our children.

  11. I hope that these comments are received in the way that I intend.

    $50k a month? Some teachers barely make $50k a year! Teachers are forced to decorate their classrooms using their own funds so that students can feel welcomed on Day 1 of school. Teachers are not paid to come in early to decorate their rooms and prepare a welcoming environment, but $50k a year? I digress.

    First, Horton is very much putting himself and his own interests first. That is evident by numerous actions and inactions.

    Second, I do believe that there are some people who have real concerns; concerns that are not rooted in homophobia and racism. Respectfully, in order to be heard and seen when addressing Horton and his administration, you MUST encourage people to refrain from racist and homophobic acts. Why? Because those acts allow Horton and his administration to change the narrative and to deflect from the real issues. He gets to focus on the racist and homophobic acts instead of being forced to deal with the real issues. The small amount of racists and homophobic pieces of crap are allowing him to play the deflection game. Force him to deal with the concerns, for many of the actions taken have not been in the best interest of the students, the families and the community of Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

    Third, I have read comments where Horton emphasizes that the issues at Haven precede his tenure. However, watch him take FULL credit for the 5th Ward School. It is important to note that the 5th Ward School has been in the works YEARS before Horton’s arrival. If he can take credit for the 5th Ward School then he needs to own the failures of Haven and other schools. I am certain that he will add the new school to his resume, but will not own the failures under his tenure.

    Fourth, let’s talk about equity. If we are really attempting to incorporate equity, why not give Haven School everything that it needs to succeed? For example, more money could be used to create several dean positions, 3 additional Assistant Principal positions and as many counselors and hall monitors needed to make students and staff feel safe? Why does Horton get to feel safe while teachers are afraid to leave their classrooms?

    Yes, we need to talk abour race, but we also need to address matters that may not be race related.

  12. WHAT? You don’t like Mr. Horton?
    Most Evanston residents are liberal progressives, so they absolutely deserve to have someone like Horton managing local schools and filling their kids brain with certain ideology. He was brought here for a reason and he is being helped by the local congresswoman who just got him $600,000 to have teachers do like he does.

    1. Do not mistake the criticism for “not liking Horton”. If only it were that simple. He is deflecting all criticism as racist rather than building allies. which is dividing our community. Ask yourself this: As Horton continues, families and teachers are leaving the district, money is dwindling, the racial divide is growing in a hostile way, and less people are choosing to move here…how are the Black and Brown children thriving? I’d sincerely like to be enlightened if there’s something to be understood. Examples would help.

  13. sad to say, but the lack of transparency and follow through and overall fishiness of this Haven “noose incident” has the same red flags as these unsubstantiated threats that fit the story he’s painting about his crusade against white supremacy. Did anyone else find it strange that he became the mouthpiece for this incident, somehow all the information was flowing through him and not EPD?

    This board is teetering on the verge of criminal with the negligence and disservice they are providing “their” community

  14. Our “unapologetic” superintendent and school board have turned a positive and inclusive, by no means perfect, D65 school district from one that attracted people to our community into one that should come with a warning label for anyone considering moving to Evanston. Our enrollment numbers and student achievement are dropping, equity gaps are widening, good teachers are leaving and the sense of community in and around our D65 schools is crumbling. The tornado of misdirected anger aimed at people who seek the same goals is not the way forward. We can repair our schools, but to do that we need new leadership and new members of our D65 school board. We need leaders that encourage dialogue and feedback rather than stubbornly ramming through an agenda while ignoring results.

  15. Meanwhile on the Dist. 65 FB page, the usual suspects are screaming “racist!/he needs the security due to white supremacy!” Sigh. Zero concern for the fact that money is being taken away from their children to provide round the clock security for a man who doesn’t need it. Zero rationale for their (screaming) opinions. Zero concern for facts. If Horton says it, it must be true!!! The Dist. 65 FB folk are not the flip side of the QANON/Trump- driven by propaganda, nonsense- and disregard for fact-coin, but rather the same side in terms of critical thought, susceptibility to nonsense, and sophomoric communication skills. They’d rather follow anything Horton says, presumably to “belong,” rather than fight for their kids’ education.

        1. 100% YES!! Stand up to it! I’m happy to read all of these comments about parents finally getting fed up with horrible D65 “leadership”. We moved out of Evanston three years ago as we knew D65 was going to implode. I hope you parents can elect a new school board and get it back on track. Good luck!

    1. Fuchsia and her internet bullies are some of the most insane, myopic, belligerent people I’ve ever come across. The name calling, the immature memes they use as responses, calling any and everyone a racist that opposes their view (much like their “unapologetic” leader Horton). Heaven forbid someone disagrees with Horton because of the damage he has done, the money he has siphoned off and the spectacle he has turned this district into, no you must only dislike him because you’re a racist. I still can’t believe the district allows and even encourages such spiteful diatribe to go on in a FB page that has their name on it.

  16. So good to see this article getting attention because it means we have a chance at getting the school leadership Evanston deserves. Are we finally waking up to this sham? Yes, we have a problem with racism and equity whether you see that or not. How can we nurture change, call it out openly and make Evanston right? But this superintendent, this board must to get their acts together because the divide grows each and every moment and our children are suffering. Don’t care about the nasty Facebook commentary because everyone looks bad there. The kids and their education is the focus and please tell me what progress we are making today? I don’t see it. Agree with other comments that Horton needs this stop for his resume and will leave us in shambles when he moves on, undoubtably and “unapologetically” claiming we didn’t get it.

    1. Continue the Equity Agenda.
    2. Leave Horton behind.

  17. This all lies in the school boards lap, period. They hired Dr. Horton, they not only renewed but extended his contract. The school board refused to set out specific goals and accountability standards to measure Dr. Horton’s progress or his success. They act as a rubber stamp for him and his administration and seem to have forgotten that their job is to represent those that elected them not Dr. Horton. Everything we are seeing in this district is due to their malfeasance. Without people wanting to step up to call the school board members out for fear of being called a racist (because they are going to label that regardless of ones position, color or ethnicity) nothing will change. This community needs to wake up and it starts with electing new school board members. If not now, when? How much worse does it need to get?

  18. We need good candidates to replace present D65 school board members; preferably from diverse regions of the district and diverse races. Please consider service on the board as a major contribution to our home community and our children — who are our most important citizens.

    A community that allows it’s elementary and middle schools to be disrupted and destroyed by non-citizen grifters is not one that has a good future.

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