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Members of Evanston’s school boards spoke of virtual consolidation Wednesday night — but the specifics they chose to follow up on sounded more like limited cooperation.

The resignation last month of Evanston/Skokie District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy opened the door to talk of consolidation with Evanston Township High School District 202.

But the 14 board members, after having a subcommittee study the idea of full consolidation not long ago, concluded they’re not at all interested in that.

They have been flirting with virtual consolidation — sharing a superintendent and some central administrative services — as has been done in Lake Forest schools in recent years.

Top: Katie Bailey. Above: Gretchen Livingston.

At the joint boards committee meeting, D202 President Gretchen Livingston said the Lake Forest approach “isn’t the only model or necessarily the model we would have in mind, but it’s something useful to look at.”

Despite that, the committee took no steps to formally research the Lake Forest approach.

D202 board member Jonathan Baum suggested the “virtual consolidation” term “has been captured to mean that particular model,” when there could be a range of possibilities.

And D65 President Tracy Quattrocki said the model of having one superintendent subject to two boards “seems very problematic” — which led D202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon to shake his head and laugh in agreement.

Quattrocki posed the question of whether a single school board could be elected to run both districts. Baum said he didn’t think that was legally possible, but the committee took no action toward researching the issue.

After running through a list of ways in which the two districts cooperate now — from shared food services and joint borrowing agreements and shared legal services on tax appeals — the board members and staff present also talked about other possibilities.

Jonathan Baum.

Baum suggested combining the districts’ research and evaluation staffs — an area where the two districts combined spend more than $1 million a year.

D65 board member Katie Bailey suggested that in addition to cost savings, that could provide more consistency in reporting.

But D65 Business Manager Mary Brown said the research and information technology functions are combined in the same unit at the elementary district, but not at the high school and those roles would have to be sorted out.

In addition administrators from both districts claimed that their research teams already have full plates now. “There’s more demand all the time for reports and they’re already popping them out like crazy,” Witherspoon said.

Bailey suggested consolidating the districts’ human resources functions — noting that both districts use a lot of substitute teachers and some might want to teach in both districts.

But Livingston suggested that teacher certification issues would limit the potential for that.

D65 board member Richard Ryhkus suggested the districts should develop a three to five year plan for possible consolidation activities.

“I’m not sure whether that needs to be a paid study, or if we could leverage resources in the community through Northwestern University,” Rykhus added.

Livingston said she was “fairly storngly biased againsst paying for anything now.”

“We’ve just had a budget hearing and these are very uncertain times,” she added.

Bailey said the boards didn’t yet know what money they might have to spend on research, but Livingston insisted it was too early to talk about that.

She suggested the administrations of the two districts could put together a report on “low hanging fruit” opportunties for cooperation in time for the committee’s next meeting.

Meanwhile Distrist 65 is beginning its search for a new superintendent to be hired in time for next school year.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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8 Comments

  1. Merging boards

    Consolidating and getting to one school board seems fairly simple to me: Develop a plan that retains one superindent (Witherspoon), merges all the members of both Board into one Board, and lets Board member terms expire without re-election until there are a reasonble number of Board member positions. It would be a challenge, no doubt, for Dr. Witherspoon in the interim, but he's proven himself politically and practically adept. (And pay him at a rate commensurate with the new level of responsibility and additional headaches.)

    It appears that the members of both Boards are disinterested in researching and thinking creatively possibilities because they are protecting their own seats.

    1. Merging is foolish

      When someone can tell me that the needs of a kindergarten class are similar to that of a 12th grade class, then we can talk about consolidation.  65 needs are VERY different than 202 and it should stay that way.  Creating a larger administration that would be filled with politics to oversee K-12 will not serve the students of Evanston.  It sounds nice on paper and makes good political talk, but this is not the solution.  Please end these discussions now and focus on the real issues of our students…. making them all succeed in school.

      1. Why do you think it’s foolish?

        Lot's of municipalities, including Chicago, have only one superintendent.  What makes Evanston different?

        If we can reduce costs by consolidating the boards and then use those savings on programs for kids, I would think that's a better use of our tax dollars.

      2. Even more foolish

        I have argued for years that consolidation is ridulous with the variety of needs in our community.  District 65 starts educating special education students at age 3 and district 202 finishes with them the day before their 22nd birthday.  Our unpaid volunteer board members have enough trouble trying to keep up with the diverse communited they already represent.  Many don't even try … they vote and govern based on their own peers' feedback. This would only be worse with consolidation.

      3. On what basis are you making

        On what basis are you making this claim? Many, many districts across the state and across the nation are K-12. I know of no study that compares district performance according to their grade-level organization. Whether the needs of kindergarteners and 12th graders are comparable (and I assure you, they actually have a lot in common) has nothing to do with how a district is organized.

  2. Surprise, Surprise!

    Imagine any Board, Committee, government body or bureaucracy that does not claim its very existence is necessary to keep civilization as we know it going.

    Of course they want to keep their jobs, pad their resume, be able to tell everyone how civic minded they are, have people reporting to them [power], etc..

    Instead of a focus on the students, what the school's real needs are, how much they really have to spend—someday the taxpayers will say 'enough' and fight tax increase and certainly any bond issuance—they want to keep the bureaucracy which has failed.  They like to appoint and then extend contracts for [vastly] over paid school offical, wink at budgets [remember the expensive wood desks the superindent got] and run their own fiefdom instead of finding how to cut the bureaucracy and devote the money to education—there is a unique idea—put the students first !

  3. A voter referendum for full consolidation is in order

    So a subcommittee ALREADY looked into full consolidation and these board members have no interest in discussing the finding at all.

    It is clear to me that no one on the board wants meaningful consolidation. They are just talking to the hand.

    Who in Evanston opposes full consolidation? Not many. Shame on these board members.

    Voters could still get a referendum and vote for a full consolidation, which would mean less board members, too. 🙂

    The political environment is ripe for it.

    Let's get to work people!!!

    1. Ditto

      Sounds like the board members care more about their power positions on the board than the education process, the students, and the taxpayers. I'm sure there are good members but not enough to to currently make a difference. Referendum sounds like a good idea.

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