District 65 Board of Education meeting Monday night.

Several weeks after learning that last school year’s budget ended with a $7.5 million deficit, the Evanston/Skokie Board of Education received some bad news about the current year.

Board members found out Monday night that the projected surplus for FY 2023-24 has decreased from $763,000 to $276,000, a drop of 64%.

While the 2024 budget is still balanced at $172.4 million, board member Mya Wilkins said that “looking forward into the future, things don’t look great. Things are going to be really tight.”

Those things would be even tighter were it not for the elimination of 14.5 full-time equivalent classroom teaching positions. Student enrollment has been declining in recent years.

Those positions were eliminated through attrition, and not layoffs, and board member Soo La Kim said classroom instruction would not be impacted.

“We’re not there… yet,” she said.

However, board member Omar Salem, a former teacher, said “it scares me that the staffing issue is there,” because it ultimately could lead to larger class size, and “in this community, that cannot be the answer.”

Major reasons behind the smaller surplus are a reduction in what’s called the Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax, a form of state aid, and higher costs for purchased services such as transportation and maintenance.

Business Manager Kathy Zalewski said that many repairs simply cannot be postponed, because “some things are already breaking.”

Kathy Zalewski and Stacy Beardsley.

The budgetary news was not all bad.

A different category of state aid increased by $1.2 million, and property tax revenues which should have come in from Cook County in June but were delayed from FY23, added $1.5 million to FY 24.

There is also a federal Digital Equity Grant of $2.4 million.

District 65 is also in relatively good shape in referendum reserve funds, dollars generated by a voter-approved tax increase from 2018.

Zalewski said the referendum dollars were expected to last five years, “but we actually did much better in putting aside money” to keep more in reserve.

That reserve is projected at $30.5 million for this year, but is expected to decline to zero by 2027-28.

While there is a small surplus for this year, the district is projected to go into the red starting in the next fiscal year.

“There are a lot of areas in the budget which are making me nervous,” Zalewski said.

“We have to provide the services.”

Zalewski and Interim Superintendent Angel Turner promised closer budget scrutiny, particularly on purchased services such as transportation.

Turner said “we are transporting close to 1,800 students in this district,” and said D65 has to “make sure we are holding true to the policy” of how such services are provided, including both buses and taxis.

Taxis, which are costly, have been used in some instances to transport special needs students or those with discipline issues.

“We will have to re-evaluate this,” Turner said.

That re-evaluation, according to the D65 budget presentation, includes an eligibility review for which students can indeed use taxis.

Turner did sound a note of optimism.

“It’s going to take some time” to make changes, Turner said, “but I’m confident we can do it.”

There was one red flag raised about paying for the new 5th Ward School.

Artist’s rendering of 5th Ward School.

Not deep red. Maybe more like pink. Not cause for panic. But something to watch.

District 65 plans to pay for the new $40 million building (scheduled to open for academic 2025-26) through significant transportation savings. The new school will be part of a district-wide redrawing of attendance lines, so most kids can walk to school, requiring fewer buses.

Zalewski said transportation savings are currently expected to be $3 million a year once the new school is open.

But she said annual loan repayment costs for that building, at least as of now, are projected at $3.2 million.

“That assumes the status quo,” Zalewski said, noting that there will be budgetary changes between now and then.

The school board will vote next week on adopting the budget.

At the same session, the board will also choose a superintendent search firm to find a permanent replacement for Devon Horton, who took a job in suburban Atlanta.

Board members all indicated on Monday night that of the four organizations which made presentations, they prefer the Illinois Association of School Boards over three private firms.

IASB is less expensive, and the district is already a member of the association.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Speaking of transportation costs which I know something about as a former school social worker having students ride taxis for any lengthy period is extremely wasteful. The special Ed team should be monitoring each student weekly to assess the progress towards moving each student back to regular transportation. This is only one area that some “ administrator” or special Ed coordinator should be monitoring.

  2. Could someone explain how the district came up with the $3 million savings with the new school?

    What is the percentage reduction in kids taking the bus?

    If we had the school in place what would have the savings been for the last couple of years? How many fewer kids would be on the bus under that scenario?

  3. Evanston taxpayers may be in for a big surprise when they find out that bussing costs won’t be going down nearly as much as the school financing plans claim. Many Evanston students are bussed because they have to cross major roads to get to school – including Ridge. It’s why Dewey students who live less than 1.5 miles from the school, but east of Ridge, get free bussing. What about Fifth Ward students who live south of Emerson? I believe they’ll have to be bussed, too. And just wait until one or more schools will have to be closed due to lack of enrolment – my guess is Orrington and Oakton – and many of those students will be too far from their new schools to walk. We’ll be back at $3M+ per year for bussing within a year or two of the Fifth Ward school opening.

  4. We need to support the campaigns of fresh District 65 board members in 2025, and start organizing now. Poor leadership from board members like Biz Lindsay-Ryan have taken the district down this path. Enrollment is down because parents see the train wreck and choose more academically rigorous schools for their children. Even people without children should care about the poor performance and poor fiscal management of District 65. Property values in Evanston are not increasing like in surrounding suburbs because of the problems in our school districts. A board that is focused on improving academic fundamentals and fiscal management will help turn around our school districts, instead of lowering standards. And please explain the logic of building a new school in a shrinking district? Just boggles the mind.

  5. The fact that enrollment is plummeting can only be a relief for the Board. That allowed the elimination of 14.5 teaching spots. If we were still paying those teachers we would be looking at a +/- $750K deficit this year rather than a surplus.

  6. You can’t even say the words “fiscal responsibility” in this town without being called a racist, “whyte” supremacist, privileged, a traitor, an enemy, a member of the KKK, a right-wing extremist, and on and on with the name-calling. So, we don’t say it, we don’t dare demand it — and this is what we get. I keep asking what it will take to make Evanstonians care, to wake up from the zombie-like slumber we seem to be stuck in. I used to think that kids’ education would be a no-brainer. But apparently, that’s not it. Not enough of us seem to care about deficits, fake budgeting, or grifting. Not enough of us seem to care that existing building structures are in disrepair and that our teachers are demoralized. Not enough of us seem to care that our student population is declining, rapidly. This begs the question: What exactly do people here actually care about?

  7. My favorite movie! Ferris Bueller ran circles around an incompetent school principal etc etc. I cannot imagine any scenario in which our residents will wake up So sad.

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