Nearly half of the expected cost to build the new 5th Ward school will be in the District 65 budget for the upcoming school year.

Budget officer Kathy Zalewski told the school board’s Personnel, Buildings & Grounds and Finance Committee Monday that, “for the first time, we are including the initial cost of construction for the 5th Ward school” in the budget — $18 million for the upcoming school year.

The funds will be used for items such as architectural studies, soil analyses, and purchases of furniture.

The new building is projected to cost $40 million, and is targeted to open for academic 2024-25, bringing a neighborhood school back to the historically Black 5th Ward for the first time in decades.

Information on the 5th Ward school was part of an overall tentative draft presentation for the upcoming budget, which is projected at $152 million, a roughly $1 million decrease from how the current fiscal year is expected to wrap up.

Zalewski said it also looks like an expected $800,000 deficit will actually end up as a small surplus in FY 2023.

“Between the pandemic, the war, and the uncertainty, we did very well,” Zalewski noted.

A huge budgetary help will be $3.3 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars.

The district is saving money itself largely through the reduction of 23 teaching positions, through attrition rather than layoffs.

“Those were efficiencies, not cuts,” said Committee Chair Joey Hailpern.

“As someone who has been RIF’d (Reduction in Force, or laid off) by District 65 before, it’s nice not to have to do it” this time, said the former teacher.

Fewer teachers are needed because the district continues to have fewer students. Zalewski said enrollment is expected to drop by another 58 students in the upcoming year, to 6,439. As recently as 2016-17, K-8 enrollment stood at 7,559.

This budget presentation was just tentative. More updated specifics will come in August, with a school board vote to approve the budget in September.

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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  1. Would not be at all surprised if the student body drops much more significantly due to the administration’s incompetency. Would also not be surprised if the inept administration incorrectly calculated/calculates the money it has to work with, generally, but also because in its incompetency, it fails to understand that federal and state grants relate to student head count.

  2. This is great and something D65 Board should’ve prioritized earlier. For all the talk about equity, this is a move in the right direction.

  3. I’m no expert so really don’t know how much of a net positive a new school in the 5th ward would be. I would say though that the schools that kids are being bused to are excellent. Also 5th warders are not the only kids being bused to D65 schools.
    It is a little hard to watch an expensive new school being built when enrollment is plummeting and we are asking people to come out of retirement because the shortage of teachers .
    Also, what again is the plan to address the $100 Million+ in repairs to the existing schools?

    My son’s school (Oakton) is 60% BIPOC. Is D65 prepared to make the $14 million repairs that school needs? It wouldn’t seem very equitable if they didn’t.

  4. It’s utterly mind-blowing that the administration is solely prioritizing building a new school and completely ignoring the fact that EVERY SINGLE OTHER school is failing, decrepit and falling apart. Why does this have to be an either-or situation? Also, as a reminder to everyone, building a new school DOES NOT excuse a superintendent from overseeing failing schools, enrollment plummeting and kids continuing to fall behind. Yet, the school board just renewed his contract.


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