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The referendum landslide: What does it mean?

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Having covered practically every school board meeting for Evanston Now of both Evanston districts for the last five years or so, the landslide victory for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 operating referendum Tuesday came as a heartening affirmation of the area’s desire for quality education.

Voters, by a four-to-one majority, approved a referendum that will increase taxes of many homes by $400 to $500 a year in an effort to maintain the educational quality of our schools.

It follows a number of significant developments in recent years.

For one, Evanston’s cradle-to-career initiative that involves the schools, the city, and a large number of not-for-profit organizations, is attacking the problem of the gap between test scores of blacks and their white counterparts to the early pre-school years, when educational experts contend the problem probably begins.

Hardly any community in the nation has successfully met that challenge, but Evanstonians never give up trying, and every candidate for election to our two school boards has affirmed their dedication to persuing that goal.

Secondly, officials at Northwestern University have set up liaison mechanisms that bring the resources of that world-class university to bear on classes at both the elementary and high school levels.

At Evanston Township High School, for example, the Northwestern liaison office is located right next to the District 202 superintendent’s office, and it continually brings Northwestern faculty and students to ETHS and the high schoolers to the university campus. And the salary of that liaison official is paid for by the university, not the taxpayers.

Opponents of the referendum pointed out that teachers in our public school system are paid more than the state average. To that assertion, Evanston voters, in effect, said they expect that to be the case, as Evanston deserves the best teachers that money can buy.

District 65’s new superintendent, Paul Goren, was instrumental in attracting a sizeable grant from a national organization to improve access by local students to superior training in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The high school, not content to rely on taxpayer money, and with Superintendent Eric Witherspoon at the helm, has attracted sizeable donations from ETHS alums to renovate the school’s aging planetarium, expanding science laboratories, and instituting classes in astrophysics, again setting them apart from most high schools across the nation.

At the same time, it has instituted classes such as Geometry in Construction, and Algebra in Entreprenuership, to provide opportunities for those students who are not necessarily planning to go on to a four-year college.

The upshot is that Evanston voters, for the most part, are willing to pay higher taxes for an educational system that will enable our young people to get the best possible start in life, regardless of their race or economic standing.

Critics will say that the higher taxes will cause some people to move out of Evanston. But what has actually happened over the years is that our exemplary way of life, augmented by a first-class public educational system, enhanced by its diversity, is encouraging more young families to move to the area, further driving up the value of our homes.

Of course, that also drives up the cost of education, but Evanston voters proved Tuesday that they are up to dealing with that challenge.

So, congratulations to those scores of volunteers who knocked on doors and stood in the cold and the rain to spread the message of a partial solution to the structural deficits that threatened our school system.

Your children and grandchildren will thank you for it.

Charles Bartling

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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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