joint_board_meeting_9nov15

Evanston’s two public school boards met in a twice-yearly joint meeting Monday night to discuss and celebrate their efforts to collaborate in making a seamless, yet effective, experience for students from kindergarten through high school.

In the center were the presidents of Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Tracy Quattrocki, and Evanston Township High School District 202,  Pat Savage-Williams, flanked by superintendents Paul Goren of District 65 and Eric Witherspoon of District 202. Radiating outward from the leaders were individual board members from both districts.

At a table in front of the board were administrative directors from both districts.

Because the meeting was held at District 65 headquarters, at 1500 McDaniel Ave., it was chaired by Quattrocki. Their next joint meeting will be held March 14, 2016, at the high school, chaired by Savage-Williams.

In past meetings, there was always an overtone of consolidation, followed later by a model of “virtual consolidation” in which they act as if they were a single district, with District 65 dealing with students from kindergarten through the eighth grade, and District 202 from ninth through twelfth grade.

Monday night, however, the word “consolidation” was not uttered by either group. Yet it was readily apparent that joint collaboration had become a way of life for both districts.

Evanston schools at all levels score above average on standardized tests when compared with the typical Illinois school district, but both districts express mutual frustration over the “gap” in scores of students from low-income vs. high-income families as well as African American vs. white families.

Acknowledging that students come into the public school system with gaps due to their diverse backgrounds, the two districts last year joined with more than 40 non-profit organizations to create a group dedicated to enhancing the educational development of the area’s youth from cradle to career.

Sheila Merry

Its executive director, Sheila Merry, addressed the group Monday night to update them on the organization’s progress towards its major goal for the year of enhancing community literacy.

She said that five “action teams” are at work on various projects, such as health and safety, parent/caregiver empowerment, preparation for adult life, fostering community supports, and, of course, literacy.

One group, she says, is working with the city to expand the 3-1-1 telephone service to incorporate communitywide social services, while another group is developing texting tips about parenting.

Following her presentation, the boards heard from the data professionals of the two districts—Peter Godard, District 65 Chief Officer of Research, Accountability, and Data; and Carrie Levy, District 202 Director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment—who have developed a “snapshot” of current reading performance for students at all grade levels that will enable both boards to determine the effectiveness of their joint efforts on college and career readiness in reading.

An agenda item on calendar coordination was quickly dispensed with, as both districts have agreed upon the starting and ending date of school and the holidays each will recognize for the next two years as a result of the actions of a joint calendar committee.

Another item that was passed over rather quickly was the legislative update, as action on bills that would impact the school districts have been stalled for months in Springfield while legislators have argued over passing a state budget for the current fiscal year.

Nevertheless, members of both boards have frequently discussed the adverse impacts on their budgets if the state should shift pension responsibilities to the local school districts or if it should declare a freeze on local property taxes.

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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6 Comments

  1. Schools, council, and state use of money

    If a goal is a seamless transition within all K-12, would it not make sense to have one Board and one set of managers who work on this day by day and not twice a year ? Nice the congratulate each other but that does not make it successful. Cutting administrative costs of two Boards and putting the money into education itself would make a lot more sense. As for waiting on Springfield, maybe the schools and Council for all city business would be better off getting Springfield to change the laws so that state taxes are cut and cities keep their own funds instead of sending them to Springfield, hoping to get money back—and then telling voters "see what we got for you" [aka reward us with your votes for getting your own money back.] State taxes should be for things that cross multiple boundaries like inter-city roads. Evanston—Council and taxpayers—should decide and be responsible for what we do in Evanston not count on Springfield to graciously give us what they consider 'free money'—it was never theirs to start with.

    1. We talk about this a lot
      We talk about this a lot without asking what, exactly, coud be cut.

      We aren’t going to lose management, we would just be re-titling them to “Assistant” administrator, most likely with the same salary package. Curriculum will continue to be developed separately for both districts. Buildings and grounds are fundamentally different – one huge campus vs 18 smaller campuses…there will still need to be 2 separate departments. D202 has no transportation department, so that stays in 65. Billing covers completely different needs…I doubt that can be consolidated successfully. Teachers have completely different needs, so inservice and supports can’t be consolidated. Consolidating the taxpayers’ representation (the boards) does exactly zero to change the budget – our school boards are unpaid and grossly underappreciated volunteers – but without separate oversight, there is more opportunity for administration to muddy the waters.

      The only area I can see where consolidation might benefit the students is in Special Services, where there is currently a degree of consolidation (due to Park School.) The only way taxpayers might benefit is if added oversight prevented lawsuits, since many students’ legal needs are not currently being met and parents are learning to protect their children’s rights.

      If we really want to look at challenges between 202 and 65, how about asking why the total budget numbers are so similar when 65’s budget serves over twice the number of students as 202 and manages 17 more buildings?

      1. “Virtual Consolidation” makes sense for D65 & D202

        While reasonable people may agree to disagree re: opportunies and agendas for consolidation, I think we need to look at the realty that exists today and the outlook for the future.

        Today, about 80% of both districts budgets are personnel related. With current labor contracts in place, this percentage will grow because the growth rate of wages (or costs) is increasing at a faster rate than revenues (or taxes) – remember for schools the tax rates (or revenues) can only grow at the rate of inflation as measured by CPI, and for the trailing 12 months ended September 30th, CPI is basically zero %.

        So over time, either costs (i.e. people) will have to be cut or a special "one time" operating tax referendum will have to get passed by the community to sustain the current budget trajectory.

        Or another alternative is to explore ways to consolidate the services provided by both D65 & D202 and save taxpayers money. For example, currently D202 provides food service to D65 – this makes sense; why do you need to have 2 separate units provide food to both districts? You don't and the current service model provides food to our children and saves money. The question that should be asked but isn't being asked for political and other reasons, is what other ways and what other areas can D65 & D202 combine/consolidate services and provide the same level (or better) service at a lower cost?

        Remember when Evanston Township was under consideration to get consolidated into Evanston City Government and all the naysayers said it can't or shouldn't be done? Well the Township was eliminated and services to those in need have been IMPROVED and taxpayers are saving money.

        Back to D65 & D202. Both administrations and boards should be asked to come up with a list. But in the interest of time, i'll provide some ideas.

        1. Technology – Why do we need two CIO's and staff when technology costs can be lowered by having a combined larger budget and better purchasing power. Our technology costs continue to grow and while we may not lower the absolute dollars spent, we can lower the future growth rate, and still provide the best experience for all students, staff and parents.

        2. Curriculum heads and department heads – one of the biggest challenges in D65 & D202 is the lack of continuity between the 2 districts. Improvements are in process, but why shouldn't we have 1 person in charge of languages, english, math, music, history, arts, science etc so that there is a seemless experience for all students? Not only would we save money, but the educational experience would be improved. Curriculum accountability would also be improved.

        3. Finance – why do we need two CFO's in D65 & D202? Why can't we have one well run department that handles the finances for both districts?

        4. Data Research – As both districts are starting to conduct more longitudinal analysis for all students and as the Cradle to Career initiative develops, why is there a need to "share" information, when this information should be available for one person/team to conduct the appropriate analysis and better understand the underlying causes for student achievement, and create more robust predictive analysis to help all students realize their potential. Data analytics is a dynamic field, and maybe Northwestern University could lend its expertise to our schools. Coordinating with one person is easier than coordinating with 2 people.

        I'm sure there are many more opportunities to pursue. But given the fiscal realities we're going to face over the next 5 + years, i believe it's in our community's best interest to start thinking of creative ideas today, and PREVENT the painful and likely budget cuts we'll experience tomorrow.

        One last point; at a minimum, a group from Evanston should meet and talk with the Lake Forest Schools which have conducted a "virtual consolidation" We can learn from their experiences.

        1. Does the model indicate that money can be saved?
          In almost every instance listed in the previous comment, the needs of elementary school students are completely different than the needs of high school students as well as the infrastructure being completely different. In all likelihood, consolidating all these areas will result in the same number of salaried individuals, just an alteration in title for half of them.

          For instance, if you look at Lake Forest’s website, you will note that there are THREE heads of curriculum and instruction: two K-8 and one K-12 http://www.lakeforestschools.org/district-departments/curriculum/index.aspx (they did manage to sort of combine technology by giving the K-12 administrator 3 areas of administration instead of one, but I wonder how successfully that workload is managed.)

          1. “Needs” of students at

            "Needs" of students at different grade levels are irrelevant to this discussion. There are hundreds of K-12 districts in Illinois and thousands in the United States. As a education professional who works on the national level, I can tell you that the Chicago suburbs are in the minority when it comes to having dedicated high school districts.

          2. Good questions

            I don't have the answer to your question, "does the model indicate that money can be saved" but neither do Administrators nor do Board members in D65 & D202. No one has done the analysis to date. A while ago a group of students from Kellogg looked at both districts, but they didn't do a complete analysis about different departments and potential cost savings. Importantly it's not just about saving money, but a "virtual consolidation" is about providing better and more coordinated services to our students.

            While I'm pleased to see both Administrations and Boards working together more closely today, I ask myself the question, "why wasn't this done 20 years ago?"  Coordination and articulation should be expected, and frankly demanded; our children deserve it. There should be no excuses for seeing disjointed curriculum between the districts.

            As a community we are spending well over 70% of the state average to educate our children and we're spending a lot of money on administrative functions. By thoughtfully combining administrative functions; e.g. technology, finance, and others, we can control our costs and spend the money in the classrooms, where all students will benefit. During other challenging fiscal times, the general comment from the Boards is "keep the cuts away from the classroom."

            Why wait until there is a crisis? You can see the train coming down the tracks, and we should be planning today for the challenges tomorrow.

            Again, let's learn from Lake Forest. And as you pointed out, they have 3 heads of curriculum and instruction. BUT maybe before they consolidated they had 4 or 5. I don't know, but let's ask the question.

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