The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board must to find a way to fulfill its educational mission with the ample funds taxpayers already provide.

Talk at this week’s school board meeting of launching a new referendum campaign after voters soundly rejected one last month suggests some board members are deaf to the message voters sent.

School District 65 already represents more than 39 percent of the total property tax bill for most Evanstonians.

As Evanston Now reported this week, the board, while spending large sums in recent years on expansion projects at several schools, chose to defer millions in needed roof repairs and other critical maintenance projects.

And as the Evanston Review reported, the state legislature may soon shift millions in annual teacher pension costs onto the backs of Evanston property taxpayers.

Four years ago the school board agreed to a lavish contract settlement which granted teachers raises of up to 27 percent over four years just as the nation was in the midst of a recession that left most taxpayers struggling with pay cuts and job losses.

That leaves residents little reason to believe that the board will be more responsible in this year’s contract talks.

And, as a Chicago Tribune report last year demonstrated, District 65 is well into the top 10 percent of Illinois elementary districts in its level of spending per student.

The board has many options for living within its means as it deals with projected increases in enrollment — ranging from slight increases in class size to adoption of a year-round school schedule that would better utilize existing buildings.

The board members need to focus on finding the best of those solutions, not on grabbing for more money from the taxpayer’s pocket.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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27 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more.

    I couldn't agree more. Thank you, Bill, for your cogent and important comments.

  2. Bill Smith on Target

    This article post was well worded and probably reflects the thought of most taxpayers in Evanston.
    The economic down turn that has been going on for the last 5 years and continues to get worse, has helped educate taxpayers that every dollar counts. When people elect someone to a public office, they expect that person be responsible to that office and to be responsible to the people of the community.

    Evanston school boards have been on a spending spree for at least the last 40 years (as long as I can remember. Evanston school districts have among the highest paid school teachers and the highest cost per student in the country. Some people may be able to point to exceptions but, regardless, we are at the top of the cost curve.

    Some members have insulted the taxpayers by suggesting that the failed referendum was not about money. It was about high taxes and money. Taxpayers would like to see D65 hold the line on money for the next 10 years and maybe even reduce the tax load a little. They reflect on truths, like spending the most money on schools doesn't produce the best students.

    In the future, they should tell the teachers, and most are very good teachers, that they have been more than generous to them over many years and the teachers need to give something back to the schools.

    I remember about forty years ago, when school boards were not limited on when they could hold a referendum, Evanston school board held the same referendum 4 times in less than a year. The 1st time it lost overwhelming with about 5,000 people voting. Three months later, it lost again by a large margin with 3 – 4 thousand voting. After another 4 months, it lost by a couple 100 votes with about a thousand total votes. The school board got smart and did not widely tell people about their forth try and it passed by less than 25 votes with about 300 people voting. The school board declared victory and said the taxpayers have spoken.

    We don't want to see school board members satisfy their egos by trying this again.
     

    1. As a teacher in this

      As a teacher in this district, as well as a resident with students attending both districts, what do you expect teachers to give back to the schools?  

      Teachers already pay for many supplies and materials for their classroom out of pocket.  Depending on where you may teach, some/many students come without supplies.  Teachers donate money for students to go to camp, for holiday food baskets, for clothes or other items for families in need.  Teachers head committees bringing different events, incentives, and activities to the school community.  Teachers give back to the schools in a variety of ways that may not always be seen by parents not on the receiving end or other members of the community.  

      Instead of always looking at what teachers can do…may we ask what can the administrators do to give back to the schools?

      1. teachers giving extra

        I don't see how the comment mentioning how some teachers may spend from their own pockets for student needs is connected with Bill Smith's essay or is a defense of teacher pay.

        Bill says that the district is spending quite a bit of money and that one reason for that is the substantial increase in teacher pay.

        If teachers feel a need to supplement what the district provides (and I don't doubt some do), that is an indictment of the way in which the district is spending money. It is no defense of teacher pay. If anything, it says that the priorities are wrong – basic supplies should come first.

        Bill's point is well taken that the referendum result was a very loud no. If the board plans an end run around this negative response, it indicates a deafness to what the public has said, that the referendum was a gimmick that backfired, and now it is on to plan B to get to the same goal.

         

         

        1. Which is coming first: another referendum or the pension bomb?

          If  there is concern about the referendum losing becuase of district costs, wait until the legislature dumps the underfunded teacher pensions upon their respective distritcts. So far only Chicago has that obligation. Wait and see to what the per pupil costs climb.

        2. I was not commenting

          I was not commenting on Mr. Smith's viewpoint but on the comment to which I directly replied below. 

          Mostly replying to this comment…

          In the future, they should tell the teachers, and most are very good teachers, that they have been more than generous to them over many years and the teachers need to give something back to the schools.

          I also think you might want to  talk to a few teachers and you will find that many, if not all, supplement their classrooms beyond what the district provides especially with books for their classroom libraries and mentor texts.  I agree the district's priorities are wrong and the NO vote was very loud that I wish the board would move on to find other solutions.

      2. please

        Teachers are there to teach, not provide supplies, not to provide money to the students, not to provide holiday school baskets, or clothes. It is nice to perform these charitable tasks but there are charitable organizations to help with these, As far as coming to school without the required supplies, turn the problem over to the administrator. Maybe getting rid of one or two of the multitude of administrators will provide enough money to handle the cost of supplies for students that can not afford to bring their own.

        You should be allowed to concentrate to teach and prepare students for their future. The administrators can handle the nanny jobs.

        You sound like a very good teacher.
         

        1. Problem Solved…via Computer Keyboard

          Yeah, just turn the problem over to administrators! Solved! Thanks skipw…that suggestion was so easy to type, wasn't it?

          1. It is not the teachers job

            to be a nanny. Turn the problems over to the administrators and let the teachers do their job. That was easy to type because it is true. Are you Joe the adminisrator? If you are, do your job, Be the nanny.

            If you are a member of a school board, RESIGN and find something you know how to do.

             

        2. You clearly have no

          You clearly have no understanding of what it takes to get kids ready to learn. Teachers should just pass the buck?  Great idea.

          1. Well

            it appears that you have no ideas and we will never have anything to learn from you. You are clearly not a teacher. Were you ever a student?

  3. Well done!

    Agree, agree, agree!  You are certainly speaking for this taxpayer and parent!

     

  4. Are we paying administrators too much?

    If we want our schools to be the best, we have to pay our teachers competitive salaries. That being said, Hardy Murphy should not be making close to what JP Brizard makes in Chicago. I think cuts are in order, but I wonder if we should focus less on teachers (who see students directly) and more on the curriculum chairs, administrators, and other office staff that do not see students face to face.

  5. Money to the teachers- not the buildings

    Right on Bill- THis is a great summary of what's going on.

    I disagree with the commentor above that teachers "should give more."    As a community, we need to support the teachers more with our own time/energy/resources, not vice versa.   

    I voted no to the referendum specifically for this reason.    A child with an excellent teacher will learn more sitting in a cardboard box than a child sitting in a new state of the art classroom with no teacher.

    During lean years, I vote to keep the money behind the people, and treat the buildings as a secondary priority. 

    WIth that being said, D65 needs to do a better job of living with a budget.  Cutting Hardy Murphy and his exhorbitant salary would be a good first step.

    1. I said that teachers should give more back to the schools

      Evanston teachers are among the highest paid in the country, very near the top of the curve. They have been given very generous pay and benefit increases over the decades, far more than the private sector. They are paid twice as much as the average teacher in this country but I agree that many teachers in other parts of the country are underpaid.

      I don't think that teachers should give back what they have already earned but I do think that they should be ready to hold the line on any new increases and maybe pay a little more toward their pensions.

      Maybe if they voted to disband their union, they can take a little more home and the taxpayer could pay a little less, We can start basing teacher pay increases on merit rather than a union negotiator. Our school board has a track record of caving when they are at the table.

      The state which has raided the teachers' pension fund and is about to dump their theft on local school districts should start using the entire lottery proceeds to replenish their pilfering.
       

      1. School [Teachers] promoting themself

        Why is there such a divide on school and teacher funding ?

        One big problem is they don't tell us what they are doing.  If General Electric [or any company] was so bad at 'publicity' as the schools and teachers, GE would be out of business.

        For people who never had or not in four(?) years,  had kids in the schools, they don't know what is going on.  Even those with kids in the system can probably only accurately tell you about the last two years of classes and maybe what they hear about the next years classes/teachers.

        For everyone else all we hear are from the Roundtable [some reports on test scores and budgets but all the letters to the editor sound self-serving] and Evanston Review [for years more of a regional than Evanston paper and little I've seen about students that excel].

        Some may hear comments from friends with children still in the schools but mostly we see the kids around town and in crime reports—-neither inspire confidence in how they are taught.  Now some of this is 'kids being kids' and some may be outstanding student and having a positive role in society—but our 'eyes' can't see that and we get too little from the schools—other than wanting more schools, smaller classes and wage/benefits.  We doon't hear about scholarship winners, Intel contestants, ETHS students taking NU or Oakton classes above the level ETHS has, etc..

        Teachers are busy but as far as I can see neither they or the Board are doing anything to 'promote' them.  What about published profiles of teachers and their academic accomplishments and profiles of their students who have made academic successes due to these teachers—even if just solid preparation for college where they made their mark.

      2. Just for the record

         A teacher in district 65 can lose his/her tenure if students do not show adequate growth. Pay increases are tied to student growth, evaluations from administration, and participation in the school and greater community.  The union accepted these terms in its last contract.

        1. How many have lost tenure ?

          We hear they can but how many have lost tenure ?  How many fired for poor performance or poor student performance ?

          That K-12 teachers should even have such a thing as tenure is sad. You should not be able to use the excuse of academic freedom for K-12—they should be giving balanced instruction on even the most debated topics.

          Even colleges are re-considering, making tenure more difficult or even eliminating tenure.  Like the private sector the jobs should be by contract and specific policy set to make sure firing [and hiring] are not political.

          Good teachers should be rewarded, poor or marginal teachers [including not reaching goals including but beyond test scores, like increasing number of students that are prepared for the next grade] should be helped [probation] for one year—helped with seeing if they can improve but also asked to question if this is really the right job for them and if not given early warning to prepare for something new.  Bad teachers should be replaced immediately.

          Teachers, administrators and the Board are there for one reason—the childrens education.  If that is not being accomplished, then they should be out !

           

  6. Cynic

    They will continue looking for statagies to extract more cash from the taxpayer.  I stated before that I believed the proposed cuts to arts programs and teachers is a part of that strategy. 

    Instead of making administrative cuts, instead of spending time working out other options to live within their budget, immediately after the failed referendum an announcement is made that art programs and teachers would be cut. They know full well those type of cuts will generate the ire of parents.

    Next step is talk about how the money is needed and another referendum would also help restore what they so quickly cut out. Who can argue with reinstating arts programs and arts teachrs? And if you do argue or vote against a referendum crafted with insinuation to restore those programs, well then, you're a beast and you simply don't love children. 

  7. Tiring of the Teacher Pay discussion

    Can we stop the bickering over teacher pay or the inane comments that "they only work 8 months of the year" or "they should only make as much as a fireman"?  If you want to reign in costs, take a look at Murphy's contract. What were his stated goals, and how was performance tied to his contract?

    Less than a year ago, in August, while many of us were doing our summer routines with the kids out of school, District 65 school board members voted with minimal public notice to give School Superintendent Hardy Murphy what amounts to a 3.5 percent pay hike to his then salary of $214,115.  Sneaky!

    Murphy already received a 15 percent annuity and a $25,000 housing allowance for a total compensation package of nearly $279,000 a year!

    You want to save money?  Curtail excessive admin packages like Murphy's (boy do I wish I had tax-free $25k to pay my mortgage each year!) and end his spending spree on consultant after consultant to perform work the Board and administration should be doing in house.

    In fact, the Board is taking orders from the superintendent instead of what it should do-set clear policy directives FOR the superintendent.  The Board is not asking for correct or sufficient information to guide decision-making.  The Board did not have an alternative plan for what to do should the referendum not be successful, a "Plan B", if you will.  The Board does not have a plan for dealing with alleged capacity issues at Lincolnwood in 2012-2013 and at Nichols and Haven in two years, nor have they asked for sufficient information to formulate plans.  It's been said before and it is true- we need a new School Board!

    In short, this Board serves at Murphy's whim.  If you are concerned about money- start at the top and cut from there.  Looking for the teachers to give back their salaries is not aiding the issue.  Many of our teachers are also our neighbors and our kids' friends' parents!  While monitoring the teacher contract process is important, stop looking at the teachers as the scapegoat, and follow the real goat's stench to where you will find it…at the JEH Center in the big office.

    1. I agree with

      most of what you say but wasn't it last year or the year before that  D202 said that students coming out of D65 were not being properly prepared to enter high school. I believe this was tied to the continued decline of d202 in Illinois high school rankings.

    2. Dollars and dimes

      The D65 Teacher's contract represents about 80% of D65 budget expenditures.   The total D65 budget is around $100 million.

      D65 teachers were rewarded with 4-6% yearly wage increases four years ago, at the height of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

      Meanwhile, other employees in Evanston (both private AND public sector) were receiving 0-2% wage increases during this same period.  Many lost employment altogether.

      Think of the MILLIONS dollars D65 could have saved if the D65 School Board simply held the line, and offered HALF of what they finally settled for with the teachers. And we're not talking about the savings that could have been accomplished just during the four year term of the contract.  We're talking about compound interest each year for the rest of each teacher's career and on into retirement pension.

      Again, this is MILLIONS of dollars.  And you say want to "stop the bickering over teacher pay"?

      You want to "save money" by curtailing "excessive" administrative packages?  You're not thinking clearly.  Let's say Murphy received a 0% increase, instead of what he did receive which was 3.5%.  The savings for D65 would have been $9000, out of a $100 million dollar budget!

      Give me a break.  Quit whining about big bad Hardy Murphy and check your arithmetic.

    3. District 65 costs

      Does anyone think the $2500 contribution from the Mt. Prospect construction firm to support c4be's campaign promoting the (now failed) referendum is just the tip of the iceberg? 

      Has there been money on the table, or under it, for other large (and expensive) already completed construction projects for Dist 65? or for the architects who had already started on this (really big) project? or for the many consultants Dist 65 has hired to work with and report to the Supt, rather than the board?

      And what about the money Dist 65 spent in promoting the referendum – like the architectural drawings of the proposed new school put up in every school in the district at a cost of something in the neighborhood of $20,000?

      And the numbers keep flipping all over the place – first there's a big deficit, then there's a small surplus; first we have too many children at the elementary schools, then it turns out, no, there aren't enough classrooms at the middle schools; oh, btw, more kids but cutting staff.  Bottom line – NO CREDIBILITY!

      Something smells very fishy here. 

  8. Recall Referendum for Hardy Murphy

    Let's have a recall referendum for Hardy Murphy.  

     

    1. It’s an excellent idea

      It's an excellent idea, he's been the most divisive "leader" in Evanston civic life in the last dozen years. I'm 100% positive a huge majority would vote to see this man ( who gets close to a third of a MILLION dollars in salary and benefits every single year) to move out and let someone take the reins to move forward and heal the community that he has so manipulatively divided to keep his own cushy job. Ask several neighbors if you don't think that a good 2/3 of thoughtful Evanstonians wouldn't love the Superintendency to have a clean, fresh start. He should be asked publicly in an interview setting if he thinks he could survive a referendum – not by his largely rubber-stamping board, but by actual Evanton voters. Watch what he'd say: "it's up to the BOARD". He's smart enough to know that he'd be out, as long as the contractual difficulties could be worked out. It'd be a powerful and ethical statement that would probably force ANY decent public officail to resign, and should be attempted. Almost everyone I know would work extremely hard to effect this if someone can bring it up. By the way, my ideas have nothing to do with race; I strongly prefer that the Superintendent of D65 is a person of color; it's a wonderful thing for all kids of all backgrounds to aspire to and is a great role-modeling position – but ONLY with the right person in it……….

  9. Big city budgets and schools

    Charlie Rose had four big city mayors (including Chicago) on his show April 16.

    They discussed budgets and pensions, but also education and its importance.  One idea was getting companies to committ to taking a number of students under their wing, displaying what that number was so the public knows and showing them a path to jobs when they finish school—including in their own company.

    Also putting up banners of colleges around the school so they get the idea early that college (or other post high school education) is important and they should start thinking of it as their goal. He said they should be doing this before high school so they start planning or at least thinking about it early.

    One of the mayors said their city government was the county government and the savings and feeling of responsibility of officials have been substantial.

    It made me wonder whether NYC has both and what I see on the Web looks like they don't. With the problems with Cook/Chicago government and finance, maybe we should start looking into doing the same.

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