Evanstonians Will Vote on New School in 5th Ward; More Classrooms for Dewey and Willard
District 65 school board answered parents’ longtime frustrations of overcrowding at elementary schools and lack of community in the 5th ward at Monday night’s school board meeting. Changes and a referendum are forthcoming.
The Evanston/Skokie CC School District 65 Board of Education board made history Monday night, taking the first step toward building a school in the 5th Ward, which has not seen a neighborhood school since the 1960s. Board members voted unanimously to put a referendum on the April 2011 ballot asking residents to vote on building a new school.
"We need a school for the 600 kids in the 5th Ward," said board member Jerome R. Summer. "What is a constant with all strong schools is a bond with parents and the support of the community. These children don't know each other. The parents don't know each other. It disintegrates the community."
While voting yes, board member Tracy Quattrocki said it was important to find out if the majority of 5th Ward residents truly want a school and thus undo the district's forced integration.
"Sometimes the school board has been accused of not listening to the community," she said.
Schooling in the mostly black 5th Ward has been a controversial subject for decades. Currently, about 600 mostly black and Hispanic children are bussed to 13 different schools across Evanston and Skokie.
Adrian Dortch, who lives in the 5th Ward and is about to be a new father, begged the board to open a school in his neighborhood. He said the bussing has divided the students in the neighborhood – even his 11-year-old twin nieces, who live in the same house but go to different middle schools. Every morning one girl rides her bike to Haven Middle School, while the other catches a bus to Dr. Bessie Rhodes Magnet School. Dortch said it's created a rivalry among the two girls, the magnet-schooler insisting she's getting a better education than her twin.
"This not only affects the kids in the 5th Ward; it affects all kids in Evanston," he said. "This could be your legacy. Please, please, please, please."
Aside from its racial undertones, the new-school proposal could also offer financial and crowding relief to the district, some members said. Also on the agenda was a vote on whether or not to add classrooms to Dewey and Willard elementary schools.
The district's Chief Information Officer Paul Brinson said building a new school would potentially reduce school classrooms by about one or two kids per classroom.
"It's an understatement to say we're concerned about space," Superintendent Dr. Hardy Murphy said, but he acknowledged that a new school would not totally solve crowding issues at Dewey and Willard. This year at Willard, enrollment was projected to be 424 students but was actually 435. At Dewey, projected enrollment was 446; actual enrollment was 448, according to Brinson's data.
Chief Financial Officer Dr. Mary Brown explained that Dewey will need one additional classroom next fall and another in 2012. Presently there is no space for an art classroom, so art is being provided by Art on a Cart. Brown said Willard needed two additional classroom this fall, but the school made do by converting the staff lounge and art room into classrooms.
Last week the finance committee recommended the board vote for the district's architect, ARCON, to begin "space capacity projects" at both schools, in time for next fall. The base bid for the Dewey project is estimated at $930,000; the base bid for the Willard project is estimated at $4.2 million.
All members approved the measure, but Quattrocki questioned the validity of some of the projections and cautioned the board to operate prudently in this development. Board member Andrew Pigozzi promised all construction could be done for less than $5.8 million.
Audience members applauded both votes.
The board also voted unanimously to sell $25 million in general obligation limited tax school bonds for the next three years to complete school capital projects related to fire prevention, life safety and security. The first bond sale is being targeted for Oct. 18.