The New School-Referendum Committee of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 moved closer last night to developing a draft of the recommendations it is planning to send to the full school board in September, but first it wants to try it out in a town meeting format next week.

The New School-Referendum Committee of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 moved closer last night to developing a draft of the recommendations it is planning to send to the full school board in September, but first it wants to try it out in a town meeting format next week.

So far, the committee, comprised of three board members and 11 community representatives, has agreed to recommend a new school for the central core of Evanston’s 5th Ward, encompassing all grades from kindergarten through the eighth grade.  The only dissenting vote was from 3d Ward resident Drew Stover.

Last night the committee struggled with the issue of how a new school would impact the enrollment of the district’s other elementary and middle schools.

Currently, students in the 5th Ward are bused to schools in other parts of the district. During the “public comment” portion of its meetings, the committee has heard from a number of 5th Ward residents lobbying for a school to which their children could walk.

The committee has undertaken a telephone survey of 5th Ward parents to quantify the depth of these feelings. Results of this survey are expected by the committee’s next meeting on Wednesday, July 20, at district headquarters, when it plans to review a written draft of the committee’s recommendations.

The following evening, July 21, the committee is scheduled to appear at Ald. Dolores Holmes’ 5th Ward meeting, to be held at the Fleetwood-Jourdain community center, where it expects to hear from constituents from throughout the community.

To date, the committee has not surveyed the views of residents outside the 5th Ward, who would be impacted financially as well as potentially being redistricted out of their present school attendance areas.

The committee last night reviewed a number of redistricting issues that a new school would present. It agreed that students would have the option of staying at their present schools, if they wish, but new students would be expected to attend the new school, although siblings would be permitted to enroll at the same school.

“The Board would have to assess and address the impact on enrollment patterns and space utilization throughout the district,” said Superintendent Hardy Murphy. While accepting the assumption that enrollment management would be an administrative function, Murphy said that “this is one that will create some heat” and would require the support of the Board.

Committee Co-chair Jerome Summers speculated that establishment of a school in the 5th Ward would be a boon to the area and would attract additional families that would swell enrollment numbers.

As for the impact on district finances, the committee agreed that a consultant would be needed to present options and that, if it were determined that a referendum would be required, consulting fees could amount to upwards of $60,000.

The committee has been operating under the assumption that a new school would require a referendum to authorize the issuance of bonds to finance the venture, but committee member Lloyd Shepard warned that “if we have to go to a referendum, we’ll be dead in the water.”

The 5th Ward community meeting on July 21 is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, 1655 Foster St.

Top: Committee members at work.

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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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  1. New School Committee should be “dead in the water”

    This New School-Referendum Committee led by D65 Boad member Jerome Summers is studying a new Fifth Ward school under the mindset that it's going to be built, the question is how.

    The irony is this committee is frantically searching ways to avoid giving voters a say in a voter referendum  – this coming from a body that calls itself a referendum committee.

    Remember, Katie Bailey, D65 Board President, supports a new 5th Ward School. She was very quiet about the issue during the elections.

    D65 created the New School-Referendum Committee at a time when D65 teachers are getting laid off, money is tight, tax revenues are down and enrollment has not exceeded numbers from a decade ago. The city is so broke they are closing branch libraries, tried to shut down Chandler-Newberger, and are thinking of selling assets such as the Noyes Cultural Center, Ecology Center, etc.

    Can taxpayers afford tens of millions of dollars to build a new school and operate it with new staff? What about the racial demographics? Evanston prides itself of diversity. Will a new 5th Ward school be diverse? 

    This is a shameful process that is going to be rammed through without any voter consent. What is not mentioned is the 5th Ward student population is down dramatically. 

    Our elected state leaders, Biss, Schoenberg and Gabel, said D65 and D202 should consolidate. Well, where's that committee, Mrs. Bailey?

    Committee member Lloyd Shepard summed it up best –  “if we have to go to a referendum, we’ll be dead in the water.” Ain't that truth. And that's why this committee will recommend another course of action that will get the 5th Ward School built without voter approval.

    This New School-Referendum Committee should be dead in the water. Perhaps during the next D65 School Board elections, voters and new candidates challenging board incumbents will finally have a say.

    The way our city and school leaders have been running our government in the past few years, people are fleeing Evanston  — home supply is way up and sales are way down. The end result is property values continue to slide as taxes rise.

    Call any local moving company and ask if more people are moving in or out of Evanston. You might be shocked.

  2. A 5th ward school will resegregate central and north Evanston

    We will have schools that are 95% white and schools that are 95% minority. Has everyone forgotten why we desegregated in the first place? Did "separate but equal" really work out? Do we really want to go back to that?

    Kids in the magnet school neighborhoods already have priority admission. How many from the neighborhood applied to King Lab and didn't get in? Enough to prove that the only way to accommodate those who prefer a school in walking distance over a short bus ride to some of the top-ranked schools in the state is to build a new school? I doubt it. Maybe just increasing the number of spaces for neighborhood kids at the magnets would do the trick.

    And minority kids from the 5th ward are not the only ones bused. Walker kids (a significant percentage are white) are bused to Chute, and they carry much of the burden of keeping Chute diverse.

    1. Resegregate Central and North Evanston?

      Central and North Evanston are already segregated.  That's a socio-economic (and some would argue, an institutionalized racism) issue.  A 5th Ward school won't change that.  How about an equality that allows the kids in the 5th Ward to have the same luxury of walking to school a few blocks with their neighbors?  Having to get to a bus stop an hour before school, in order to ride 2-3 miles to kindergarten, is not equal. 

  3. 5th Ward School – Fiscally irresponsible

    I understand the desire for a new 5th ward school. But in today's and tomorrow's economic environment, how are we going to pay for it. Consider the facts. Evanston is experiencing severe fiscal challenges. The State of Illinois is experiencing awful fiscal challenges. And the US Federal Government is facing some "little" fiscal challenges of its own. 

    Locally, the City of Evanston is facing severe budget challenges – as a community we're closing our branch libaries, Chandler Recreation Center is under consideration for alternative uses and hasn't had the appropriate money spent on maintenance, the Ecology Center is likely next in line,and many people are aware that Robert Crown is in dire need of improvements, and the list goes on. Local taxes are very high, just look at your real estate taxes and all the additional fees recently imposed. Many homes are in foreclosure, others have been on the market for a long time and only sell at depressed prices. People in the community have lost jobs, and there are limited new opportunities, and many businesses have closed in the last 12-18 months, and those still in business are facing many challenges. District 65 just formed a budget committee to address its upcoming deficits expected over the next 3+ years. So in the context of this difficult local environment why are we considering building a new building at a rumored cost of $10 mm + (i take the over on this one)? This decision raises both our fixed cost structure and operating cost structure.

    Now let's consider the state fiscal situation. Illinois has one of the worst state finances of any in our nation. It's BAD. Why does this matter? The state provides money to our local schools, both District 65 and District 202. In a recent meeting with D65 and D202 School Boards, State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, State Reps Robyn Gabel and Daniel Biss, all said that the State of Illinois would be giving Evanston Schools LESS MONEY!! 

    At the Federal level, there are heated discussions currently over raising the federal debt limit and addressing our growing deficit. In the future there will be less money coming from Washington.

    So given this situation, can someone please help me understand why building a new 5th ward school makes fiscal sense?


  4. 5th Ward School Solution?

    Although King Lab is not technically in the 5th Ward, it is right across the street, and provides a very rational solution for the New School Committee.  After all, King Lab was created to help solve the school board's 5th Ward problem for desegregation in the first place.  SInce the board created the 60/40 directive, but didn't want to face the issue of busing white kids (involuntarily) to a black neighborhood, they simply closed the 5th Ward neighborhood school, changed it to a "magnet school," and presto, a happy, integrated Evanston.  (Well, at least an integrated set of schools.)  A few years later, when they decided to move Lab to its present location, they did find a group of white kids to bus: the Skevanston Walker School kids.  Those kids, (whose parents were less likely to complain) who had previously gone to Skiles and Haven (both less than two miles away,) were sent to Chute (over three miles away) to help balance out racial issues there.

    Now, with the District revisiting the 5th Ward school issue, and having moved beyond the 60/40 directive, why not use King Lab to help solve the problem?  A number of practical authors on this forum have already suggested it.  With some creative redistricting, it could serve as a neighborhood school (along with Kingsley) for the kids who can walk there.  Sure, there will be some parents upset at the loss of a magnet school, but if it was phased in, from kindergarten, there would be no displacement.  Why does the District need two magnets?  Their focus has been to balance all the schools, and that should continue.  The District could save millions of dollars, while still moving towards a community schooling model that is at the heart of the 5th Ward issue.  

    Check out the following articles, which were published during the last "5th Ward School debate," back in 2002.

    "A History of Foster School and Desegregation in School DIstrict 65" by Larry Gavin

  5. Charter? Kipp?

    The New York Times today mentioned Evanston as follows "In Illinois, where 103 of the current 116 charter schools are in Chicago, an Evanston school board committee is considering opening the district’s first charter school."

    I think a Charter School would be great.   Is this really being talked about?   

    1. No Charter! Take back Lab!

      Before we get all excited about Charter Schools, we first need give some serious consideration to redistricting.  It's  the option that makes sense financially.  This would require making Lab a neighborhood school once again.   I have a real problem with the existence of magnets in this town.  Their purpose is no longer clear.  They are no longer used for desegregation and ironically the two areas that are in need of more integration aren't helped at all by the presence of magnets.  Further as a parent of neighborhood school kids, I also have a real problem with any Evanston school getting extra programs that are funded by tax dollars.  If any school has any "extras" like early foreign language, dance or whatever else, it needs to be paid for with grants or PTA fundraising money.  If not, then ALL the schools in Evanston deserve these extra programs!

      Another consideration before jumping on the Charter school bandwagon should be the compelling evidence that one of the ways that Charters appear to be so successful is by pushing out underperforming students. 

      We have obvious solutions to the overcrowding and lack of a 5th Ward school already available to us.  I think it's time to seriously explore them!



      1. Another history lesson about the role of magnets

        D65 parent states "I have a real problem with the existence of magnets in this town.  Their purpose is no longer clear.  They are no longer used for desegregation and ironically the two areas that are in need of more integration aren't helped at all by the presence of magnets."

        King Lab has played a central part–for many years the ONLY part–in promoting racial balance in Evanston schools.  It may offend some readers to read this but it was once considered necessary to offer parents something extra–say a k-8 format, a fine arts focus (*in the past with no additional money or staff–I read this has changed recently but for most of Murphy's tenure he boasted about the fact that the magnets received no additional support from the district)–to get white parents to willingly and at their own expense, transport their children outside their largely segregated neighborhoods into a predominantly Black neighborhood to attend school.  Yep, an ugly fact, but there it was.

        And, yes, King Lab's PTA raised funds like mad to bring a Fine Arts focus to the school BECAUSE the district gave NOTHING to support that mission.  All residencies, small grants to teachers, media center projects, etc., that were extra were funded by the PTA. 

        Yes, things are different now.  The Supreme Court has said schools may not take race into account.  So maybe race doesn't matter anymore.  Maybe income doesn't either.

        But what DOES seem to matter is that from time to time different schools become less or more populated and there are imbalances in classroom size.  Magnets can play a role in smoothing those imbalances by being an attractive alternative to a crowded neighborhood school.  Murphy and the board have done many things to weaken the magnets, especially by offering preferential treatment to "neighborhood" families and forcing all D65 schools to use the same curricula (except ACC and TWI, of course), removing looping, etc. This lessens the district's ability to use the magnets to smooth enrollment. When the district does not use the magnets in this way to smooth enrollments across the district and say, allows disproportionately more from a school that then become underutilized instead of promoting the magnets to schools that they claim are over crowded, we end up where we are now.

        Remember folks, we have FEWER students enrolled in D65 schools than we have had in the past and no one talked about building another school.

        It isn't necessary to malign King Lab, or Rhodes for that matter, and to acknowledge that at a time, in Evanston, racially integrated once mattered. even if people don't value that now.

        1. RE: Magnet History Lesson

          Having been born and raised in Evanston and educated in D65 and 202, I'm well aware of the magnets' history in this town.  I don't disagree that they once served a very important purpose.  My beef with their existence is not about past, but present.  In light of recent discussions regarding the possibility of a new school being built when, as you said, our student population is not actually exploding district wide, but rather at specific schools, it seems the time has come to rethink the use of the magnets and to redistrict.

          I am in total support of schools being racially integrated, but the magnets aren't helping in that venture any longer.  Parents at Willard get letters every year asking if they'd like a spot at a magnet.  Most don't accept.  In order to "infuse" diversity they brought TWI there, but it's the school remains something like 90% Caucasian.  Then we have Oakton, whose population is 70% free lunch.  This is where my child attends.  Many parents are scared away by hearsay and automatically apply for magnets without even looking at Oakton.  I can think of nearby blocks where not one family sends their child to Oakton.  There seems to be a disproportionate number of families in Oakton's area that attend magnets.  I have a real problem with that because it divides neighborhoods and doesn't support Oakton's amazing school community.

          There was a recent article in the New York Times titled "Charter School Battle Shifts to Affluent Suburbs".  It mentions Evanston, but more importantly it touches on how these boutique educational programs siphon resources from existing schools in the area.  I believe that's what the new rebranding plan at the magnets will do and a charter would only exacerbate that unfortunate trend. 

          The school board needs to work with the buildings we have.  They need to take a long, hard look at educational inequities that exist in this district. This current plan of rebranding magnets and building a 5th Ward school is NOT the answer.


  6. 5th Ward School

    In today's economic state, I do not think we need an additional school.  I do agree, we need to remove King Lab as a chartered school and it should be a regular school. 

    The community does not need additional expenses, we need to learn how to best utilize the education facilities we currently have.

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