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New 5th Ward school in doubt

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education came close Monday night to rejecting a special Board committee’s recommendation to build a new kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school in Evanston’s 5th Ward, but kept its options open until the public has had a chance to give more feedback before making its formal decision next Monday.

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education came close Monday night to rejecting a special Board committee’s recommendation to build a new kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school in Evanston’s 5th Ward, but kept its options open until the public has had a chance to give more feedback before making its formal decision next Monday.

The occasion was a special meeting of the board’s Finance Committee, at which all board members attended in order to keep working on ways to handle the space needs of a projected rise in enrollments between now and the end of the decade.

On the table were five options, ranging from taking life as it comes (do nothing/change assumptions) to proactively building the K-8 school while adding eight teaching stations at Nichols Middle School, including construction costs of nearly $40 million.

Two other new-school options, and their construction costs, include building a K-5 school while expanding Nichols and Haven Middle School ($36 million), or building a new middle school (grades 6-8) while expanding Lincolnwood Elementary ($26 million).

Another option that would not involve building a new school would be to spend $19 million to add classrooms at Lincolnwood, Nichols, and Haven.

When Board President Katie Bailey asked each member to give their preference, the two newest board members, Richard Rykhus and Eileen Budde, along with Andrew Pigozzi, advocated a hybrid of the two non-new-school options,  with Tracy Quattrocki leaning in that direction. Jerome Summers and Katie Bailey advocated for a new school, with Kim Weaver leaning in their direction.

Summers and Bailey were co-chairs of the New School/Referendum Committee that originally recommended the K-8 new-school option, while Weaver was a member of that committee.

With the exception of Summers, a long-time advocate for a new school in the 5th Ward, the other members insisted that their minds were not yet fully made up and that their views could change before next Monday’s board meeting.

Those who opposed building a new school did so largely on financial grounds, including doubts that the public would approve a referendum to issue bonds to finance the venture. They asked the administration to provide more information, including a charter-school option.

Few members of the public were on hand to comment on the proposal. One expressed concern that a new 5th Ward school might resegregate the district’s schools, while another expressed his opinion that the board would do what’s right for the community, but said he would not mind paying additional taxes for a new school.

A special two-hour forum to obtain community feedback has been scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. and another one-hour forum at 6 p.m. Monday, before the board meeting convenes at 7 p.m. Both forums will be held at district headquarters, 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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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