Evanston voters may not only have a new library tax to contend with next year. They may also be asked to pay for the construction of a new elementary school.

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board Monday directed Superintendent Hardy Murphy to present a plan for consideration at their next meeting on Sept. 13 that would put a referendum before the voters as early as April of 2011.

State law requires voter approval before bonds can be sold to finance a new school. If approved, the current plan is to build a 16-classroom structure west of Green Bay Road and south of the North Shore Channel.

The district’s chief information officer, Paul Brinson, painted a grim picture for the board of the district’s ability to cope with rising enrollment in a modern environment with a collection of schools that are all more than 50 years of age.

Although the district’s enrollment peaked at 6,900 students in 1999-2000, it reached a low point of 6,100 in 2007-08 and has been rising ever since, with more than 6,500 projected for the school year that begins this month.

In addition, Brinson said, the average class size in the district has decreased from 25 in 1994-95 to 22 today, and the district’s goal is to drop it still further to 20 students. And, he said, new teaching methods and technology require more space per student than ever before.

The board’s target is to hold enrollment in each school to 80 percent of capacity. With the smaller class size, all district schools except King Lab and Nichols Middle School fail to meet that guideline. In fact, Dewey, Willard, and Lincolnwood are at or above 100 percent capacity.

Those three schools need costly improvements before the 2011-12 school year, and the earliest a new school could be ready for occupancy would be 2013. While voters may be feeling the pinch in a sluggish economy, board member Jerome Summers said now would be a good time to get a good deal on building a new school.

Although the board did not take a vote on the issue, none of the members Monday spoke out against the new-school solution. Members Tracy Quattrocki and Bonnie Lockhart were absent.

Even though board members may feel that the economics may make sense for building a new school that would ease the pressure at all the schools, rather than paying for a dozen or more costly building projects to bring all the schools up to speed, the board is also aware that voters in the wealthier suburbs north of Evanston rejected a referendum in February to pay for improvements at the Winnetka campus of New Trier High School.

Update 3 p.m. 8/17/10:

For preliminary planning purposes, district officials assumed the new school could be built on the site of Foster Field, property still owned by the school board but now used as a city park. The field, at Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue, is near the former Foster School building at 2010 Dewey Ave. that is now owned by Family Focus.

The district’s communications director, Pat Markham, said today that, if voters approved financing for a new school, the board would work with the city on selecting a site.

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...

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30 Comments

  1. It’s time for a new school

    We are just beginning to feel the effects of overcrowding at district 65 and I applaud the board and administration for seeking a long term solution.  I urge everyone to have an open mind as this option is explored.

    1. Maybe just wait a year or two to solve itself

      With all the taxes in Evanston and a dying business enviornment [just look at the downtown], the number of students per classroom [I’d have been happy to have only 20 per classroom] will probably take care of itself as families decide they can’t afford Evanston and want the safety [including schools] of a Wilmette or a Naperville or Skokie to name a few.

      You can build up the Administration and pay them huge salaries and life-long contracts, but that just masks the problems—not solve them.

  2. Redistricting

    Did the Board even discuss redistricting as an alternative to either building a new school or building additions to existing schools?

    I think the administration is cooking the books to make it look like they need to build a new building. If the schools at capacity were not at or near the 5th ward, would they be pushing for a new school?

    Remember voters – not only with this referendum be on the ballot in April, so will 3 of the Board members.  

    1. Yep, redistricting was

      Yep, redistricting was discussed at length.  You may be able to watch a rerun of the meeeting if you are interested.

    2. Yes it will be on the ballot…

      … and might very well be voted down. But don’t hold your breath for any meaningful change in the Board.  Why would anyone want to start to serve on a Board that is totally toothless and in the superintendant’s pocket?  We have seen what happens when any ideas counter to Hardy Murphy’s are seriously raised. Ask former Board members Baum and Sheehan (among others) how that went.  

      There will be an election in April, the incumbents (or their clones) will be elected, and by May we may very well have another contract extension for Hardy Murphy.

  3. A new school is being rammed down our throats

    It doesn’t seem like there was much discussion about the proposed new school. It seems the board simply instructed Murphy to submit a plan where it would then become a voter referendum.

    What gives? This is a major issue involving a lot of money the city, county and state does not have. It’s interesting that the neighborhood in the area of this proposed school has been devasted by foreclosures. There are a lot of vacant properties. So I wonder what the student projections are in that area? I would imagine it has declined.

    What would be the district boundaries for this new school because there is the issue of racial balance? Would students from the high-enrollment schools of Willard and Lincolnwood be bussed to this new school?

    What is the projected cost for a new school compared to additions to Willard, Lincolnwood and Dewey?

    If elementary school enrollment is bursting at the seams then do we need a new high school?

    If these Board members want a new school so badly why not convert the current and modern D65 Administration Building into a new school and move the administration offices to the Civic Center or Technology Center? That way you wouldn’t have to build a new school.

    There are numerous pressing issues for D65. Spending an exorbitant amount of money for a new school where enrollment hasn’t even reached peak levels of ten years ago is not one of them. 

    The funny thing is class sizes grew in part because teachers were laid off!

    Elected officials just don’t seem to understand the concept of cutting back. I guess it’s easy to sit up there in that podium with the enjoyment of planning projects and spending other people’s money. Even unelected officials now are getting into the fun.

    I speak of course of the unelected and appointed Library Board that just voted itself a taxing body without public hearings in a sneaky and shameful attempt to circumvent city cuts to the library budget all the while residents were donating money to keep the branch libraries open. I wonder how many of those residents who donated now want their money back.

    Meanwhile, Evanston homeowners who lost their properties in foreclosure could probably attest in many cases that the property taxes were just too much to bear.

    I think some ambitious Northwestern student should try and contact some of these residents to find out how much of an effect their property taxes had on their foreclosure. I know many of these foreclosed homeowners had owned their homes for more than a decade.

    1. I’ve followed this issue for

      I’ve followed this issue for a long time and I don’t think the board or administration "want a new school so badly" as much as want to solve the issue of overcrowding while upsetting the least amount of parents. 

      Redistricting will result in absolute anarchy among those who have to switch schools or purchased their homes with the intent to send kids to a specific school.  We had a taste of it with this year’s kindergarten class and it wasn’t pretty.

      Adding on to overcrowded schools may solve the problem for now but the other areas of the school may not support the increase.  Will they add on to the library, auditorium, cafeteria, etc, too?

      With inclusion and the new learning methods, going back to classes of nearly 30 students is completely unacceptable so the peak enrollment of ten years ago is irrelevant.  We need more classrooms in the district.

  4. New School sounds good

    A new school is long overdue and now is a GREAT time to build.  Construction costs are low, interest rates are low and it will be easy to get bids.

    Evanston needs a project like this to thrive and stay competitive.  The only way Evanston can improve it’s financial situation is through growth, tax cuts won’t pay off any debt.  Long term growth strategies such as building schools have to happen or no one will want to raise a family here in 10 or 15 years.

     

  5. New School Named In Honor of Hardy Murphy

    If they build it you can count on it.  And another contract extension…

  6. New school AAA rated bonds?

    Am I reading this correctly, the school construction will be financed by bonds.

    I don’t see anything about taxes.

    Or did I miss the taxes part of the story?

    Or are bonds and taxes the same thing?

    Or do we pay taxes to give the bondholders a profitable return?

    Can someone explain this to me?

     

    many thanks

    Manon Kavesky 

    1. Bonds now, taxes later

      Hi Manon,

      Typically a governmental entity will issue bonds — typically for 20 years — that are paid for by an increase in the taxes the residents pay as long as the bonds are outstanding.

      In very broad terms, it’s equivalent to taking out a mortgage to buy a new home.

      In Illinois, school districts, which are subject to tax cap limits and generally are already spending at close to the tax cap level, typically have to seek voter approval of a bond issue to fund a major construction project like a new school.

      — Bill

  7. Maybe a new school isn’t so bad

    I don’t claim to know if this school is necessary, since I don’t follow school issues….but if they are going to need any in the near future – either due to increasing enrollment or to replace existing ones…this might be a good time to do it.

    Will interest rates ever be this low again?  Will construction costs ever be this low? 

     Unless the Republicans get their way  and bring deflation, the answer is no.

    The same logic, of course, applies to the "Civic Center."

  8. New school will mean redistricting

    A new school will force redistricting throughout the community.  Building another school is not the way to avoid redistricting.  One other solution would be for King Lab (which has not had a real purpose in a long time) to become the TWI school and to move all the TWI programs there in order to create a much healthier and robust dual language community.  And removing the TWI programs from Willard and Dewey (as well as other schools) would alleviate overcrowding!

    1. Good ideas!

      Moving the TWI’s to King Lab is worth considering but it would be in conflict with the notion of ‘neighborhood’ school.  

      Another way to go to avoid redistricting would be to build another magnet school.  Perhaps a new magnet would take the pressure off neighborhood schools and allow all to have TWI programs.

      As for the merits of choosing to build at this particular time:

      any building contractor will tell you: "Today, you can’t bid low enough."  

      A beautiful new, world class school would go a long way to bring new and keep existing families- and thus businesses- in Evanston.  When was the last time Evanston built a new school? 

      1. Allow all to have twi program?

        Many of us specifically wan to go to schools that don’t have TWI, thank you.  And since the program is supposed to serve the Spanish speaking students (as opposed to being a form of enrichment for the English speaking kids) its size should be driven by enrollment of Spanish speaking kids.

      2.  Neighborhood school?  For

         Neighborhood school?  For who, the English speakers, of course.  Many TWI spanish dominant students are still bussed around, they are also sent to other schools when their "neighborhood school"  TWI class is full.  Move TWI to King Lab.  It will save the District thousands of dollars in special services, bussing and materials.  Schools w/TWI do not have sufficient, if any, special services.  Some might have a social worker once or twice a week.  Oh, is a kid/family only suppposed to be in crisis when the social worker is there?  Now with inclusion…services are weaker because TWI spanish dominant students all spread all over the dsitrict and service times are not being met.

        King Lab a TWI school…it’s been a long time coming and NEEDS to happen!

    2. As a King Lab parent

      I am offended by your comment that the school hasn’t had a purpose in a long time.  It is just ignorant and rude.  King Lab is a wonderful school, as are all of Evanston’s schools, and has a lot of dedicated staff and families.  Shame on you.

      1. As the parent of two King Lab

        As the parent of two King Lab and ETHS graduates,  I am extremely offended by the comment that King Lab does not serve a purpose.

        Just because the D65  Board and Administration have spent the past 11 years eviscerating the Fine Arts programs  and undermining the school’s effectiveness  by the revolving door at the principal level, does not mean that King Lab has no identity and "serves no purpose".

        I noted that at this year’s ETHS graduation, out of the top 20 students as identified by GPA , 5 were King Lab alumni.  King Lab has also been well-represented in many of the extracurricular activities at ETHS; such as basketball, band, chorus, and cheerleading  in many leadership capacities.

        King Lab is a school where  tolerance is taught.   Tolerance of differences in race, socio-econmic status,  ethnicity, and physical and mental limitations.  My children left  King Lab having friends of diverse races and ethnicities that stayed with them through their sojurn at ETHS .

        I will be forever grateful to the dedicated teachers, both former and current, who reinforced the ideal of "judging people by the content of their character , not the color of their skin":, and the parents and staff who lived that ideal.

        I appreciate the teachers that  expected hard work from my children and accepted no excuses.    I know that there are many, many hardworking and dedicated teachers in the district and they are not concentrated at any one school.  I consider my family fortunate to have experienced King Lab.

  9. We are broke

    Let’s build a magnet school.

    Let’s build an elementary school.

    Let’s build windmills on Lake Michigan.

    People, we’re broke!

    1. What would William Seward do?

      If we followed this logic, the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge projects would have been cancelled….and we would not have purchased Alaska when the country was broke after the Civil War.

      Republicans want to contract our economy….enquiring minds want to grow.

  10. What about bringing current schools up to modern standards????

    How can the board discuss building a new school when existing schools all around the district are in such terrible shape? No airconditioning, no lockers for middle school students, fire hazards throughout, separate building for kindergarteners so they have to walk outside to get to lunch, library, & gym, libraries that are too small for the school community….I could keep going and going. Maybe the board should focus on making facilities at schools like Dawes & Rhodes a little more on par with what has been done at Dewey & Willard. In addition to that, how do we determine who would attend the new school? New facilities, clean classrooms, state of the art facilities – i can think of creative redistricting to have my children attend. And, even if we could afford to pay higher taxes to fund this I wouldn’t vote for it – I’d rather start saving for college expenses & retirement.

    School Board Members should start focusing on making what we have better. Don’t renew a contract that isn’t up & tie up funds that can be used to better the schools. Parents should start thinking about who they can support to take those three seats that are up. It is time to get rid of the folks that just keep making the situation worse and worse. I’ve never heard anything positive stated about any board member except for Tracy Quattrocki. How in the world did Summers, Terry and Pigozzi get re-elected? I hope that some good, level headed, strong folks step up to take their place this next election.

     

     

    1. I’ve never heard anything

      I’ve never heard anything positive stated about any board member except for Tracy Quattrocki. How in the world did Summers, Terry and Pigozzi get re-elected?

      Funny, because this is the EXACT OPPOSITE of my experience.  You must be one of the small percentage of parents whose interests are the same as Ms. Quattrocki.  Mr. Summers and Mr. Terry in particular are to be commended for their desire to represent  the best interest of ALL of the families in our community.

      1. Small number of parents?

        You obviously haven’t been attending or watching the same Board meetings that I have. I’ve and heard literally dozens of parents step up to the microphone and ask for things and been entirely ignored – except by Tracy Quattrocki. Most recently, with the contract extension for Hardy Murphy. Tracy Q. said she received 150 complaints about the extension and nearly 20 people (the max. allowed to speak) stood up to ask very relevant questions about why this needed to be done now.

        Apparently, you are one of the small number of parents whose interests are the same as Terry, Summers and Pigozzi (and Weaver), who apparently are entirely in the pocket of Dr. Murphy and will do anything he wants. Perhaps you live in the 5th ward?!

        1. we’re probably neighbors

          No, I don’t live in the 5th ward but I do care deeply about the kids that do live there.  They are part of our community and frankly, a large part of what makes our community different than most north of here.  Tracy seems to vote in the best interest of upper class white families who want to protect their neighborhood schools and their "enrichment" (twi) programs. 

        2. 150 + 20 is a small amount

          We often have a vocal minority controlling the discussion but it doesn’t mean the others don’t count.

  11. Building a new school is shockingly irresponsible

    In late 2007, D65 Board members had discussions of closing one or two elementary schools because there was an 11 percent enrollment decline at the time – about 700 students less.

    The Board at the time also discussed a report that indicated D65 had 59 percent more space per student than the national average.

    And now, not even three years later in a deep and severe recession, the D65 school Board, comprised mostly of the same members, are seriously considering building a new school!!!!!! Did we wake up in the Twilight Zone or step into some strange parallel universe where common sense doesn’t exist?

    Brinson and Hardy Murphy, who received two contract extensions in the past three years, say D65’s goal is to decrease the average class size. Well, how are you going to accomplish that when you layoff teachers?

    The cost to build this new school would be in the neighborhood of $15-20 million. In addition, the school board also wants to spend millions more to add new classrooms to Willard and Dewey, which are receiving the brunt of increased enrollment.

    Furthermore, D65 staff never mentioned nor were asked about the demographic outlook in the Fifth ward where this new proposed school would be built. Is there an increased number of elementary students in the Fifth Ward to justify building this new neighborhood school? How could it be when there has been a significant amount of foreclosures and an increased number of vacant properties in the area. 

    And what about the racial imbalance that would occur if the Fifth ward school is built? Do D65 school board members plan to bus students from other areas to this new school?  

    In 2002, the D65 School Board voted 5-2 against building a Fitth Ward school because it was too costly. That was during the good ole days when property values were rising. Now property values are declining while property taxes are increasing.

    Each year it costs taxpayers $20,000 to send one student to Evanston High School. Rather than talking about building a new school in these tough economic times, there should be serious discussion about consolidating D65 and ETHS, which would trim a good amount of administrative fat.

    But fiscal prudence and common sense is clearly not in the DNA of Evanston governmental bodies.

  12. Make it an all-Kindergarten school

    The administration and board must thoroughly vet whether redistricting would solve any over-crowding issues before proceeding with a new school initiative or add-ons to existing buildings.  If the need proves to be there, however, it would be great to have a new building and this would be a good time to finance one with low interest rates, low construction costs and low real estate costs.  Make it nice and big while we’re at it (make no little plans).  Then, if over-crowding eases in the future, we’d have a beautiful new building and could sell one or more of the old properties (some of which are in prime locations) in a valuable real estate deal when the market picks back up. 

    Re-districting could be avoided at the outset if the new building were big enough to be an all-kindergarten school, or an all 5th-grade school.  That way all students in the district (except those attending magnet schools) would have the opportunity to experience the state-of-the-art school, while remaining at their attendance area schools for the other elementary grades.  Parents will complain that this would cause sibling splits and be a terrible idea for lots of other reasons, but personally I think it would be fantastic.  Creating a universal school experience for all the district’s students and families I believe would serve us well. 

    1. Creative Solution to Evanston School Overcrowding

      Instead of building a new school (maybe to consolidate all the 5th graders, as suggested by Gwen,) how about use prexisting space at a significantly less than capacity ETHS?  What if all 8th graders attend ETHS, maybe using one of the four wings, self contained, as the 9th graders do now with Boltwood (West) ?  ETHS has more than enough space to accomodate them, (as enrollment is over 1,000 lower than it was during some points on the ’70’s) and they would be more prepared to start HS as 9th graders.  This would also allow more 8th graders to take HS level classes.  Then D65 could get creative with school use / redistricting and no costly construction would be needed.  Maybe this is too outside the box, (or maybe I’m ignoring multiple school code issues) but our leaders need to put their heads together and get more creative here.

  13. Bonds for Schools—Better Consider non-parent vote

      Hopefully parents of children still in the school system can judge and care how good the schools are.  Hopefully they meet with teachers when there are issues, help their children [tutor] and make up for any defects in the school education

      But there is another large body that must be sold on the need for a bond or any other funding—people with no kids in the system and even more so those who don’t expect to be in Evanston when they have kids or have had children in schools long ago and now have to worry about their own finances.

      For these the schools have done a terrible job.  We see low scores for minority students, several special interest programs [TWI, ethnic based classes] instead of getting students prepared with the basics and beyond, contract extensions and raises, teachers complaining about salaries—and we see the behavior of students around the city not to mention the crime.  Parents I know with high achieving children say they have to supplement what they get in school, tutoring themselves, get into advance classes, university programs, summer programs, etc..

     The schools are a black-box to most people.  Look at the Web site and try to determine what they kids even study.  Read the papers and all you read about are the administration and teacher demands—very few stories about successful students.  Read the test results and critical analysis by those who study the testing process and you find all the games that can be played with scores—-excluding reporting on groups that are "too small", excluding scores of students they maintain are "special cases", not to mention [I’ve not heard reports in Evanston] cheating by students and teachers, etc..

      If they want money, they better start communicating !  

     

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