Update 4:40 p.m.: The Evanston Skokie School District 65 board was mistakenly listed on state records as among the big-dollar donors who have made the current school tax hike referendum one of the most expensive campaigns in city history.

State Board of Elections records have shown the school board as having given — in a joint contribution with the teachers union — $7,000 to the referendum campaign on March 22, following a $5,000 donation on Feb. 13.

A screenshot from the election board website showing the most recent contribution.

State law prohibits school boards from advocating on behalf of a referendum, although it does permit them to distribute “factual information” about ballot issues.

Evanston Now unsuccessfully sought comment about the donations from Referendum Committee Chair Eamon Kelly on Tuesday.

After Evanston Now this morning reported the listing on the state records, the Committee to Support D65 Referendum send a letter to the state board saying it had erred in listing the contributions as coming from the board — that the money came only from the teachers union.

A copy of the letter sent to the elections board today.

The union president, Paula Zelinski; the school superintendent, Paul Goren; the board president, Candance Chow, and Kelly all now insist the $12,000 in contributions came only from the teachers union.

Chow said, “We’ve very carefully observed the requirements under the law to not advocate for the referendum.”

A detail from a flier sent by the D65 Referendum committee this week.

The referendum campaign has featured numerous direct mail fliers, including one suggesting students would be packed into classrooms like sardines in a can if the referendum fails.

With only contributions of $1,000 or more required to be disclosed so far, the pro-tax hike group has reported receiving cash and in-kind gifts totaling $57,000.

That compares to total contributions of just over $18,000 to the committee backing the failed 2012 referendum that sought to build a new school in the 5th Ward. 

That committee didn’t report any donations from the school board or the teachers union.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Sounds like a lawsuit will follow

    Will this cause the Referendum to be withdrawn until the courts rule on this ? Passed or not will the Referendum be ruled null and void because of these contributions ?

    1. Ramifications

      Someone who violated the state statute would be “guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.”

      But see comment above suggesting there’d be no grounds to overturn the referendum outcome.

      Also note that if, somehow, the funds were segregated and not used to promote the referendum, there might be no violation at all. Though why the school board wouldn’t just spend the money directly, rather than funneling it through an outside group that has an advocacy role, would  raise interesting policy and judgment questions.

      Finally, at this point, without any response from the referendum committee, it’s possible the committee made a mistake in reporting the contributions and the money was all really just from the teachers union.

      — Bill

  2. Thank You

    Considering that the information in their mailers is far from factual, I would think that this referendum should not be allowed to go forward. I would think that any smart lawyer, none of which are on the D65 schoolboard or representing the schoolboard, would be able to make the referendum null and void.

    And I thought we had smart people running our schools or did they just think they would get away with this?

  3. Union $$$$$$

    This information makes it difficult to believe that this referendum is in no way connected to salaries and pensions as has been repeatedly stated in other comments regarding this topic.  If the union has the funds to support the district in this manner maybe we should be asking them for the needed funds instead of always depending on property taxes for district needs.

    1. Agreed.  This tax increase is

      Agreed.  This tax increase is driven by the need to fund operating expenses, the single largest of which is compensation and pension related.  Simply about prioritization — the board is chosing to prioritize such spend over elementary band, gym and other such cuts.

      Continuing to further burden residents without any meaningful change to the stranglehold of the defined benefit pension scheme is disengenuous at best.  Of additional concern is that our board approved the results of the recent contract negotiation while knowingly not having the means to fund it.  

  4. Committee to Save Our Schools

    The Committee is very grateful for the wide variety of support its gotten from parents, grandparents, everyday Evanstonians and our teachers to help communicate to all District 65 residents about why this once in a generation referendum is so incredibly vital for our entire community.  No District 65 funds were ever solicited or offered.

    1. Once in a generation?

      What about the next huge “ask” from D65?  It’s already planned, you know, and it won’t take another generation to get added to our tax bills. 

  5. Payback Time

    At present, it is not clear whether the school board contributed money to the D65 referendum campaign, although it seems unlikely. What is clear is that when the board last voted to increase teacher compensation it knew, or should have known, about all of the financial and operational disasters that the referendum supporters now claim confront the district. Nevertheless, it proceeded to provide increased compensation rather than save money for all of the activities now argued to be at risk.

    So it appears (1) that a government body made a deal with a public employees union to increase wages for the members of that union, (2) shortly later the same body claims that it lacks sufficient funds for necessary programs and needs to raise taxes, and (3) the union whose members were beneficiaries of the sweetened contract spends money to help the government body which provided the increased wages.

    Is it possible that the board got rolled by the union? Or is it in the pocket of the union? At a minimum, the incestuous backscratching which long dominated in Springfield and Chicago has now landed in Evanston.

      1. Political mouthpiece

        Evanston Now readers should be aware that North Cook News is not a traditional news source, but rather a media outlet for the politician and radio talk show host, Dan Proft. Mr. Proft is also the chairman and treasurer of the Liberty Principles super PAC. As such, North Shore News’ supposed analysis should be taken with a grain of salt. 

      2. Context…. or ultra conservative bias?

        Northcooknews is hardly a balanced source for “context”…

        1. Northcook

          are any of their statements false?  Is D202 among the 6 most expensive high schools on a per student basis?  Has D65 been running chronic deficits?  Does D65 spend much more per student than other Chicagoland districts?  The only thing I am concerned about are facts.  If the facts in this article are true D65 has a spending problem not a resource problem.


          1. Yes

            The short answer is yes, the North Cook analysis is riddled with false and misleading information.

          2. Sources of data

            Relative elementary and high school spending data is availible on As you can imagine, cost per pupil varies from community to community as does school quality and home value. I posted a lot of numbers on a previous thread, which I won’t repeat here, but I’m sure you can cast around on that website and chose districts that you consider comparable. Comparability is key.

            D65 budget data is availible on their website. You can also find data about enrollment and deficit spending there. 

            Evanston’s effective property tax rate is completely in line with other local rates. Reading the Chicago Tribune article they cited will show you that, in fact,  many other Chicago area suburb’s are actually higher than Evanston’s. Different states have different tax structures, so looking at California, etc, isn’t directly comparable. (They have higher state income tax there.)

            I encourage your effort to become informed. Primary sources are out there. 

          3. Evanston is High

            If evanston teachers cannot teach its students at what we are paying per student, the problem is not current funding. It is the way they go about it. is time they require the parents come to meetings at school every other month with their address in hand as proof of residence and discuss their kids success or failure at school.

            Vote NO on more money unless you want to pay more taxes or rent. Evanston schools need to work more on solutions and less on screwing the tax payers for the school’s failures.

  6. Just vote no on the $14.9 million tax referendum!!

    I’d like to see the original filing sent to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

    Did ya know that the Teacher’s Union operates out of the D65 Warehouse Building at 2017 Greenleaf, as shown on the election board website. Anyone uncomfortable with that arrangement? We sure are.

    The Teacher’s Union is spending thousands of dollars to pass the $14.9 million tax referendum even after the D65 Board recently gave them a pay raise and other benefits. Why? Cuz they don’t want to lose their cushy pension that is financially crippling our schools.

    And consider the $14.9 million if passed is an annual increase.

    VOTE NO ON THE $14.9 MILLION TAX REFERENDUM. And vote for Steve Hagerty for mayor since Mark Tendam gave a $1,000 donation to the $14.9 tax referendum campaign.

    1. Clarification

      BOTH mayoral candidates support the referendum. With good reason. $40/month to ensure our public school children simply keep the level of education they currently receive. The referendum is NOT about teacher salaries or retirement benefits. Voting no will negatively impact the education our children receive & will harm your property values.

      1. Clarification

        THIS!  A realtor friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that a couple of her listings were on hold until the referendum was voted on.  Failing to support the schools at their current level will lead to steep drops in our property values.  People move to Evanston for the schools!

        1. Fake News

          This is fake news.  There is so little for sale in Evanston right now the only thing that would hold up a sale would be bank not approving an overpriced property for a mortgage or mortgage not approved because the buyer does not have the funds.  Dist. 65 schools and teachers have not lowered their standards overnight due to a pending referendum.  It feels like the people in Evanston are losing their minds over this issue.  Please ask your realtor friend if the increase in pre-foreclosure and foreclosures in Evanston has anything to do with this referendum because if it passes I bet they will continue to increase.

        2. Scare Mongering and false infomation

          Great schools are never the main reason people cite for moving to Evanston.  

          Close to the city?  Yes. Good restaurants and entertainment?  Yes. Lakefront?  Yes. Diversity and tolerance?  Yes.

          Schools?  No. Pretty much never.

          People move to many neighboring suburbs specifically for their superior schools:  Some examples: Wilmette, Northfield, Winnetka, Northbrook, etc

          Why do most people do NOT end up buying in Evanston?  #1 reason I hear is the high taxes.  #2 is lack of inventory in the most desirable areas.  #3 is high prices.  #4 is older (vintage/outdated) housing stock.

          Higher taxes are a huge NEGATIVE  to property values.  It’s simple math. Monthly housing budget is primarily composed of month principal and interest, and property taxes.  Higher property taxes leave LESS for money in the budget for principal and interest. Hence, higher taxes lead to LOWER or stagnant housing prices.

          Now, are you going to try to sell us on the EZ payment plan?:  “Only $40 more a month for great schools”?  LOL.  Not falling for it because it makes no sense. Voting NO for the referendum.

          1. City has to make up its mind

            “Close to the city” yes but for many that means transportation—CTA and Metra—car traffic in and out of city not that good at least to the west. Wilmette is a pretty good alternative as is Skokie.

            A big reason people don’t want to live in Evanston and I suspect this will increase, is the crime. As for those wanting to live in Evanston despite the crime, those who can afford to live away from the bad area have their own parts of the city—how many with income over $200,000 live from Chicago Ave. to Asbury and Howard to Main ? Ashland to McCormick ? Others have to live where they can afford but to save get better housing e.g. north Evanston, Wilmette and north—remember even law school and medical school grads have high debt to payoff first [doctors also want to be close to our hospitals].

            Schools, at least ETHS, have had a good reputation for decades—but always with the aside “if you are in the top track(s)—otherwise mixed. What is seldom if ever included in the analysis go top/low performiing students is the support of educated [e.g. NU and other advanced degrees] or low education level parents. To read or hear about K-8 schools, you would think there was a disaster—except when the city wants about good write-up about Evanston.

            Consider Evanston without NU and the two hospitals and a few others—not a pretty picture. 

      2. not going to move the needle

        This is the same argument that has been used for months.  Anyone that is not already “for” the referendum is not going to be persuaded by this.  

        The referendum is most assuredly about teacher salaries and benefits given those, understandably, constitute a majority of the operating budget.  However, the referendum passing will not assure students keep the same level of education.  It merely plugs a financial hole in budgets projected by D65.  It could lead to improved schools or a spiral of fiscal mismanagement.  By that same token, property values could be impacted negatively, positively, or not at all. 

        What many people want is a reasoned explanation for why the per-student spending needs to go up just to maintain the same level of service and what the longer term plan is to manage costs.  An explanation of the District’s plans if the various worst case scenarios built into their budgets don’t come to pass would also be welcome bit of information.  The odd tendancy to ignore that the D65 budget has gone up by tens of millions over the last decade when harping on the student population increase and the offhand dismissal of any suggestion to look into D65/D202 consolidation are glaring points to many questioning the referendum.  The D65 strategy to justify the referendum has been fear mongering and moral shaming.  The inability of the district to provide a well-reasoned justification “for” or to respond to the relunctance expressed by some voters could be viewed as its own reason not to entrust 14 million more per year to this administration.  

        1. Well Reasoned Justification

          Start with the expense to maintain the Joseph E. Hill/Early Childhood Education Center that expands in excess of a city block.  HVAC, 24 hour energy required (extremely high ceilings) PLUS LABOR (anticipated increase in minimum wages).  In additional add the same expenses for the additional schools in the district.  

      3. Sky high property taxes = fewer potential buyers

        The price of real estate is based in large part in demand. Sky high property taxes mean that the property is less desirable so fewer buyers and less demand. 

        D65’s greed will drive even more middle income families and individuals out of Evanston.  What happened to our community’s claimed love of diversity? Economic status is diversity, too.

        1. high taxes, not the best schools

          My son and his wife are looking for houses in Wilmette, Northbrook and Glenview because the taxes in Evanston are too high and the schools are not the best in the area.  I love Evanston but I can’t wait to downsize in an attempt to lower my property taxes as well.

        2. I’ll take a page out of Jo’s

          I’ll take a page out of Jo’s playbook & assume the prosecutorial role. Provide me with proof that Evanston’s property taxes are sky high. Comparability is the key here. Evanston is a progressive, well educated city near one of the largest cities in the country. I think your whining about property taxes is overblown. An extra $40/month is not a major ask especially when you factor in that the ask is for kids & that we’ve not had a new referendum in over 30 years. People move here for the schools.

          1. High property taxes

            $9000.00 per year for a 1200 sq ft home.  Continues to go up every year.  Is that not high?

          2. According to wbez d69 skokie

            According to wbez d69 skokie spends $11,797 per student.  D65 currently spends $14,948 per student.  D69 outperforms D65 in terms of college readiness scores.  Our Skokie neighbors are equally as progressive as us.  D65 needs to get their costs in line knowing there will be a 33% income tax increase, another $90 million capital request for D65 and that dreadful soda tax starting July 1.  Benefit spending at D65 shows no correlation with fiscal discipline with a per family spend rate that is 54% higher than the state norm.  Then there is the tactic of approving a teacher’s contract when they knew the money wasn’t there.  Those are indisputable facts.


          3. Referendums in 2012 and 1991

            Evanston had referendums in 2012 and 1991. Both are less than 30 years.

      4. $40 a month is far from the

        $40 a month is far from the case for many (most?) Evanston homeowners. Try two to three times that.

    2. Who do the Boards represent ?

      While Chicago’s school Board is not [always] a good example, we see in the news stories that they go head to head with the teacher’s union and other groups when they believe the requests [union, salary, benefits, school closings, class size] are not reasonable or economically feasible. In Evanston when the union or politically connected groups [or even the Board does not want to be bothered with complaints] wants something “jump” the Boards seem to respond with “how high.” There does not seem to be much separation between the Board, union and connected groups. The Boards should represent the taxpayers and students. When there are decisions to be made, the taxpayers should know that they are being represented—the unions certainly represent the teacher’s demands. The goal is of course to give the students the best possible education—not provide jobs—even for teachers, high salaries, talking points for politicians. Teachers [the good ones] deserve salary equal to the quality of the education they provide [merit pay] but instead the union demands a level field no matter if they succeed. We don’t have an ‘arms length’ relation here.

      1. Tactics

        The referendum is as much about $$$ as is about tactics.  If the referendum passes look for more of these type of tactics–voting for increases in salaries and benefits when the funds aren’t there and asking taxpayers to bail the mistake out after the fact.

  7. This is the taxpayers opportunity to ratify the d65 contract

    doing housework and it occurred to me that the referendum is our opportunity to approve/decline the D65 teachers contract and to approve/disapprove of the tactics that have led us to the $116 million referendum and the soon to follow D65 $90 million capital referendum.

  8. Building Repairs

    The school is talking about spending $24 million in ROOFING AND MASONRY repairs on 16 school buildings totaling $24.4 million and other buiding and site work totalling $14 million. I read somewhere they want to re-pave parking lots. Why not scale back on all this spending, instead of band and gym? Sheesh. Maybe just patch the roof, wait on reglazing the windows and and bid out the construction jobs to lower paying contractors? 

  9. Low income renters and

    Low income renters and unionized teachers will turn out in droves to pass this because it doesn’t hurt them.  I’ve seen so many “Vote Yes” signs in front of apartments and why wouldn’t they vote for freebies on the backs of middle class homeowners?  Hope the family that buys my home can afford Evanston better than I can.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.