The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is attempting to build support for an operating referendum in April that would raise the property taxes of the average homeowner by $438 per year.
The plan was the principal item on the agenda of the board’s Finance Committee meeting Monday night.
In fact, Superintendent Paul Goren plans to conduct public sessions tonight and tomorrow night to explain the situation and to answer taxpayer questions about the need for additional operating funds to maintain and enhance the district’s educational product.
Tonight’s meeting is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the King Arts Magnet School, 2424 Lake St. Tomorrow night’s meeting will also be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St.
While this year’s budget is balanced, unless new sources of revenue are found, the budget next year could be more than $5 million in deficit, and deficits would climb yearly until they exceed $20 million in 2024, Goren warned, thanks primarily to enrollment growth and property tax caps.
These projections, he added, don’t even include assumptions about changes to the state funding formula or a tax freeze, which Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has advocated, that could add at least $30 million to the deficit over just the next four years.
Nor do they deal with the additional uncertainty about federal funding for education as a new administration takes over in Washington.
Without additional revenues, the board would face such unpopular decisions as increasing class sizes, eliminating programs, student activities, and student supports, reducing instructional technology, curriculum materials, and facilities maintenance, and reducing services to families and community partners.
Other possible reductions may include closing a school or schools, combining schools to serve fewer grade levels per building, instituting multi-grade classrooms to maximize class size, and making cuts to all-day kindergartens.
The dilemma for the district’s taxpayers is that the remedies that might be necessary could very well lessen the attractiveness of Evanston as a place for families to live, which could lower the value of the area’s homes.
In background material provided to the committee, the administration noted that a complicating factor is its fund balance, which, at about 20 percent of revenues, is in the bottom 15 percent of the state’s 724 school districts.
“Further decreases to our fund balance,” the administration warns, “can impact our bond rating and increase our borrowing costs.”
The administration is recommending an operating referendum that would generate $13.5 million in revenues. “A lower referendum,” it maintains, “would put the district back in deficit too soon.”
It notes, also, that any potential monies from an April 2017 operating referendum would not end up in the district’s coffers until the 2019 fiscal year.
The plan is for the superintendent to go ahead with the community presentations scheduled for this week and then for the Finance Committee, at its next meeting, on Dec. 19, to make its recommendation to the board for consideration at its meeting on Jan. 10.
Goren said the deadline for putting a referendum on the April 4 ballot would be Jan. 19.