I’m trying to wrap my head around the Better Schools Initiative referendum proposed by District 65 — but it hasn’t been easy.
Since I haven’t yet formed my own opinion, I’m sharing a few opinions I’ve collected from various community members. These opinions are by no means all encompassing. They’re just to get the conversation going so Evanston residents can decide for themselves how they’ll vote on March 20.
Below is a (mostly) pro-referendum statement written for me by an anonymous D65 parent.
Click on these links to read the other three opinions:
(Mostly) Pro-Referendum (Anonymous District 65 Parent)
…My background is in real estate feasibility, which means I’ve looked at a hell of a lot of demographic projections in cities all over the world, and building permits, and newly constructed homes/condos, and whatever and had to decide what the market was doing and whether it made economic sense to build more.
I look at Evanston, the students projected, the condos we've built and are building, the economy, etc. and I think - yeah, that makes sense. The economy is coming back; Evanston has tons of starter condos/homes for families moving out of Chicago. Forget about a 9/11 baby boom bubble that's just passing through, I think it's reasonable to think we will stabilize at a higher rate of students.
Now keep in mind:
- According to a Roundtable article a few years back, in 1965 D65 had 11,000 students. 1967 10,860... 1976 8,413... and in 1979 7,061. We have something like 16 schools now? We've closed Chiaravalle, Foster, and Noyes. Kingsley opened, then closed, and then re-opened. I'm sure something else has closed...who knows.
- Factor in that we now realize that it's better to teach kids in classrooms where desks are not lined up in strait rows. And, we would like to keep our class sizes smaller than they were years ago. So, it's not outrageous to discuss adding another school back into the mix.
- The middle schools, referendum or not, need expanding. Nichols classrooms are smaller in terms of square footage than the rest of the middle schools, and our "avg" class size is 23, compared to 19 at Haven and 17 at Chute, which both have larger spaces to house their kids. Several Nichols classes have 29 students this year, and teachers are not thrilled about it. Nichols needs space, and needs to get the $10+mil renovation and expansion that is part of this referendum. If this doesn’t pass we may be able to get it anyway by using our debt extension base - something we can use and pay back (yes, with interest) without a referendum.
- They have folded in an expansion at Haven also, which is needed, as well as some life-safety fixes that we could also take out of the debt extension base, but if we pay for them with the referendum we can free up the debt ext base for other life safety stuff etc.
- [Some people] say we could fit everybody in by shifting to the k-3, 4-6, 7-9 plan. Sure, we would just have to bus north Evanston down to the south Evanston schools. Yeah, that will fly, I’m sure.
- Others say that the 5th ward school is just a downright bad idea - no one even wants to go there, and it would be 80% free and reduced lunch. Well, if no one in the 5th ward wants to go there than I bet the free and reduced lunch population would go down...and there are always peripheral houses with middle incomes that may take a chance...if that's the case then all of a sudden your low-income % is down to 50% and you are Washington School. [Washington’s population was] 65% free and reduced [in 2003], and through gentrification of the neighborhood this year, Washington is down to about 45%.
- Which brings me to another point: gentrification. What has the city or anyone else done for the 5th ward lately, or ever? I'm not talking the whole social justice thing, but from a developer’s perspective...or an Evanston resident perspective...it's a shady area. Anyone want to invest there? Does the city have some $$ to build a fancy community center there? Well, no. And the best we would get if a developer came in is some pretty condos, nothing community oriented. So what’s wrong with infusing the 5th ward with some development? If I’m correct, there is a city grant focused on the plot of land just south of the school site. Between that redevelopment and a new school, that area will turn around. And you know what that means?......
- Evanston 5th ward becomes a little more attractive. It starts gentrifying. It starts blossoming. AND IT STARTS PAYING MORE TAXES.
- What does this mean? That the city tax rolls get a little happier, and our city services get a little better, and everything moves in a good direction.
WAIT, THERE'S MORE: The teachers. The beautiful infrastructure doesn’t work without the teachers.
- The District 65 budget is screwed right now. Teachers are screwed in negotiations with or without the referendum, but maybe a little less if it passes. If we aren’t scrapping to fit our kids and deal with our life safety construction because it's being paid for with referendum dollars, then we'll have a tiny more wiggle room for teachers. not a lot, mind you, because they are two diff pools of money, but some (since life safety stuff can come from either pool, so takes away from salaries if we have no where else to take the funds from.)
My prediction: whether or not we pass this referendum, we will have an operating budget referendum coming to the ballot in a couple years. We cannot absorb the pensions that the state can't pay, and the teacher’s raises, and our current deficit (sorry Hardy, we know our budget isn’t really balanced), without a little help from our taxes for operations down the line. AND that's not even including the extra teaching aids I hope we get when our classes get larger.
As I write this, I swing back to the side of building it.
- Why, in a city like Evanston, are we paying to bus kids out of the 5th ward?
- Why do we fear biting the bullet and taking a leap? Why with every damn thing we do in this district do we always have to disagree and argue to the point that it leaves us paralyzed, sticking our finger in the holes in our system instead of having the courage to take on something big?
- Am I sure this is the answer? Hell no, but what I think we should do is say 'ok, our infrastructure needs some work; our operating budget needs some infusion. There is no way around it. Let's face the truth and do it right.' You know what? Hardy seems like a cockroach, but he wont be here forever. Evanston will, and these buildings will. Lets give his wonderful successor, whomever that may be, something to work with. If you don’t do it for the schools, do it for the city.