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Planning for New School to Continue Despite Failed Referendum

The D65 referendum failed Tuesday. So what happens next?

When District 65’s bond issuance referendum was , some may have presumed that hope for a  had sunk with it.

But others saw the vote as an opportunity to go back to the drawing board to figure out another way to make it happen.

Rebecca Langan, messaging chair for Citizens for a Better Evanston, said Wednesday that though the group viewed the referendum as the most comprehensive plan for the district, they would also remain open to exploring new ways to fund construction of the new school.

“Now is the time to really reevaluate the approach,” Langan said, “and that calls for the district to do so, board members to do so and Citizens for a Better Evanston to do so. There are committed advocates on both sides of the coin that want to pursue opportunities district wide. So maybe this is now a time for all of those people to come together and think about what needs to happen.”

The District 65 referendum asked voters to approve a $48.2-million bond issuance to fund a new 5th Ward school ($20.6 million), as well as pay for various improvements to other Evanston school buildings ($27.6 million). It was voted down by a 55 to 45 percent margin on Tuesday.

Members of the District 65 school board will likely also begin to reassess the plan they put forward to fund the proposed school.

District 65 school board member Jerome Summers was quoted in a Wednesday Chicago Tribune article as saying he would continue to campaign for the project.

“I’m disappointed, no question about that,” Summers said in the article. “I’m not willing to give up the fight. One of the best things out of this effort is the people who came together to fight for this singular cause to bring quality education to every neighborhood of the city.”

Referendum supporters may in fact be able to change opponent’s opinions by listening to those who voted "no" and devising a plan that addresses their concerns.

Evanston resident Neal H. Levin said he was very interested in supporting education reform and would like to see a school in the city’s 5th Ward, but that he was happy to see the referendum fail because he hoped it would force the district to devise a more financially stable approach to the issue.

“Many of the people that I know that voted ‘no’ want to give [5th Ward residents] what it is they’re looking for,” Levin said, “just not in this way. … It’s easy to say, ‘here’s $23 million, build me a school.’ But the real challenge is how to build those schools in a sustainable model, in terms of a community and how it can be used to engage a community and revitalize a city that’s in dire economic straits.”

Levin said that he and others have already planned to convene in the near future to brainstorm a feasible funding model for the proposed school.

Other ‘no’ voters may be harder to sway, though, as some opposed the referendum for other reasons. During , some readers argued that a 5th Ward school would re-segregate Evanston’s elementary schools by race and income, while others thought the school’s initial design had far too many classrooms for the attendance area.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th Ward) said that, though she continues to support building a new school in her ward, she believes Tuesday’s vote spoke volumes about how the city as a whole feels about the plan.

“That’s a loud vote to me about how people feel about a school in the area,” Holmes said. “It’s not a major concern for other folks. Maybe it’s a concern only for people who live in the ward. …That it didn’t pass, says to me, that people didn’t pay attention to the basic issue, which is bussing our children out of this ward into other schools. You only have to drive through to see them standing on the corner in all kinds of whether, getting ready to be taken out of their neighborhood.”

Depending on the type of plan the school board submits in the future, it may not have to seek voters’ permission through a referendum.

However, if the district decides to put a revised referendum on November’s general election ballot and the same number of residents voted then as Tuesday, supporters would have to sway only 701 critics to pass the issue.

“Now the real work starts,” Levin said. “It seems to me that this has struck such a nerve that the dialogue can’t be over. In fact, it may just be starting.”

The next District 65 Board of Education meeting will be held Monday, March 26 at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, starting at 7 p.m.

In the comments section below, share your own ideas about how plans for a new 5th Ward School could win your support.

Sally March 23, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Yes, Jim, there is a capacity issue. It's real. While no one knows the future with absolute certainty, many tools have been used to predict enrollment and all have fallen short of the increase we've seen the past four years. And it's only getting bigger. There's lots of data for you to analyze on the district website if you'd like. Or better yet, go visit a school facing overcrowding and speak with the parents and staff. It doesn't take money to express your view, Jim, just a little effort. If you spent just half of the time you do on these websites writing letters to your school board representatives, elected officials and attended a few meetings you'd be amazed. Again, so much easier to sit back and complain, isn't it?
Mary Anne March 23, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Sally, Whatever the stated reason, those children are still on the bus. Actually, there is no k-5 school east of Ridge between Lincoln (at Main Street) and Orrington (north of Central Street). I think that means no Dist 65 school, k-5 or k-8, in the 1st ward.
Jim March 23, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Sally, If the board wants my views, they can read these posts with less time than my letters to them directly. I do write and speak to elected reps frequently. I don' t think of this as complaining but rather participating in the discussion with considerable give and take. Are all of those who disagree with your point of view complaining? The demographics were paid for by the board and based on unproven assumptions. I went to an elementary school and a high school both built in the early 1900's with 30 to 40 students per class with one teacher and no assistants. My classmates and I did well, old buildings and all. Maybe I will show up at a board meeting or two or run for the board. Might be entertaining!
Sally March 23, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Jim, What I call complaining is when one criticizes other's solutions to a problem but does not come up with their own. What do you think the district should do about capacity problems? Thirty to forty kids in a classroom? I don't think you'll get too far with that as your platform but I'd love to see you run for the school board and share your vision.
Kate Monte March 25, 2012 at 12:28 PM
What I find repugnant is that C4BE wanted this referendum bundled. They thought citizens would fall for their assertion that if you were in opposition, you are a citizen for a worse Evanston, you are anti-social justice, and you cruelly enjoy making kids wait for the bus "in all kinds of weather". The Board wanted the voters to decide and despite piss poor voter turnout, C4BE couldn't get it passed. Yet they have the audacity to spit on the decision and say, in effect, we didn't get what we wanted so we'll go find other ways to do so. Like what the majority wanted doesn't matter. And I also love how, in all this rhetoric, no one wants to address the very suspect $2500 contribution to that organization. C4BE list it's credibility with me and many, many others with that alone. We need a new superintendent and fresh meat on the Board. We are looking for candidates as I type.
eddie conley March 25, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Im no longer an Evanston resident but i am a product of the Evanston school system. I attended king lab the k-5 school in the 70s and then later skiles/king lab middle school afterward. We moved quite a bit when i was young so i was first bused from main and elmwood(across the street from centra school), then from dewey street(near dewey school). We moved to foster st later and i walked to school and the back on the bus for middle school. Based on my experiences with multiple races and cultures let me say for what Its worth, that i am so grateful to have been raised in that environment. Busing or no busing it has been the single most important experience in my life. Im gladmy parents Did what they had to do to give me That experience. I dont know how i would vote on this difficult issue. I just hope thru all the discussion that we all consider the valuable cultural experience that diversity brings whether you walk or ride to it.
Sally March 25, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Whoa, let's get our fact straight. Citizens For a Better Evanston formed after the board voted to go to referendum. If you didn't like the comprehensive solution being put forth, you should have attended board meetings, written board members, etc and told them what YOU wanted to see. Good luck finding anyone who wants to run for a volunteer office when people like you do nothing but criticize them for their hard work.
Sally March 25, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. The question isn't about whether or not to ride the bus. It's about being given the choice. At this point in history we are busing minority kids into white schools to provide desegregation. This community has been asking for a neighborhood school so they have the option. There will still be families who choose to ride the bus - ie those from the northern schools who still wish their kids to go to a diverse school.
Kate Monte March 25, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Sally, I find it distasteful that you troll this board accusing people of things that you have no idea about. First, I have spoken to Board members about this new school, attended meetings, and have made my feelings known. How dare you say "people like you?" What exactly, I demand to know, does that mean? People who have five kids in District 65 who care about their education? People who struggle to pay $11k a year in annual property taxes and don't want to see any more bad fiscal decisions made? People who have an opinion and who voice it- or is that right only reserved for people like YOU? How dare you anonymously criticize ME? This issue was put up for the VOTERS TO CHOOSE- yes- it was left up for voter's CHOICE, and can you tell me what the outcome was? The voters chose NOT to build the new school. I find the hubris of those wishing to go against the will of the people by further pressing the issue an arrogant insult.
Kate Monte March 25, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Eddie Conley, I agree with you as a fellow alum (King Lab '83. ETHS '87). It was an amazing environment that positively affected us all...it's that type of integrated environment that I want to see forevery kid in Etown. Cap & transfer is a scare tactic. There is no evidence we will face overcrowding that would necessitate 18 classrooms. The district's finances are a mess and the flip-flopping of the projections from deficit to surplus in a matter of weeks is suspect at best. Further, categorizing Evanston schools as "white schools" or "black schools" is divisive and racist. They are OUR schools- regardless of where you live. 5th warders who wanted this school had the choice to vote but statistics show that most didn't even vote, and many who did chose no. Stop telling people "this community has been asking for a school" because "this community" didn't come out and prove that. Attacking anyone who doesn't share your opinion with insults is not the purpose of these comment boards. They exist for thoughtful expressing of opinions and I have a right to mine as much as yours, but yet I don't feel the need to resort to sarcasm and false accusations. We will find new candidates and we will continue to monitor the Board and Administration to prevent the circumventing of the people's will. We don't need luck, good or otherwise. P.S. I still find it telling no member of your political organization will comment on the $2500 contribution. And so does everyone else.
Debirag March 25, 2012 at 05:40 PM
My child went to Haven in the 1990's after being bussed to a Chicago Public Magnet school which was like a miniature United Nations with respect to race and ethnicity. My child experienced absolute racial segregation at Haven at lunch, on the playground, and in classes and had a miserable time. At E.T.H.S., he had a better experience and had friends from diverse backgrounds. I voted for the new school because I believe children have the right to attend a neighborhood school and I hoped it might become a "magnet" literally or virtually for all races to attend. I don't believe a neighborhood school is a metaphor for racism unless it is as are the poorly funded as the CPS low income schools.
Jim March 25, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Everyone who comments here is well intentioned and probably a devoted Evanstonians and parent. Everyone agrees that we want the best shot for our and other children as knowledge and wisdom are the keys to a civilized world. Regardless of perspective on what to do, debate always has some arguments shaded one way or the other. Sometime facts are divulged, sometimes not as a strategic tool. Starting from the point of view that we are all human and interested Evanstonians and want good and fair education, what can we agree upon. How about answering the questions of what is fair and what is good in terms of education and then looking for a solution for achieving the answers.
Dianne Sperling March 25, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Jim, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. In response to those who are advocating a new school board, I would like to say that we've done that many times. Why can't we get it right? In part, I think because they are working with poor leadership. How about we get a new superintendent? Based on my personal experience with both Boards and Murphy, the Board is not the issue. Murphy has time and time again shown that he is not the leader D65 needs. I was profoundly relieved when my children moved from 65 to 202. Why? Leadership who recognize, acknowledge and respond to problems without believing that money will solve all things. How many folks know of a teacher who has been/is being bullied by their students? How does that affect the bottom line and the quality of education Evanston's children deserve to receive? It directly affects the bottom line by making it harder to attract and retain good teachers, it affects classroom morale and decreases effective teaching time. How many folks have kids who have been bullied, continue to be bullied? In my experience with 65, I have not only seen bullying at both levels, but also articles in the local paper from parents who have moved out of Evanston specifically for this reason. We need better leadership, and not only at the Board level.
annie March 25, 2012 at 08:53 PM
I think the new school/maintain current buildings referendum will be back at some point in time. While my kids were only in District 65 for 5 years, it wasn't the best school system they were in, and it definitely wasn't the worst. I would have to say the teachers that my kids had were all very good and all in all, my kids experience was just fine.
JellyBean1 March 26, 2012 at 12:59 AM
I'm confused- Can D65 build a school without voter approval? When you say "planning to continue" what does this mean? DO you mean planning to try again to ask the voters? If so, that's fine- I think they can ask again if they want. IF Hardy Murphy is still in power, I think many will still say no as people don't trust his leadership. I personally voted no because he is cutting support personnel, professional development $, and teacher material fees to balance the budget- as well as planning to hire all fresh out of college teachers to save money. I also voted no because there was no plan about how to staff the new school. No plan for where the money would come from/how much money would be needed and what the impact would be on the other schools. If you mean that the district can increase taxes and build the school anyways- is this legal?
Jordan Graham March 26, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Hi JellyBean1, Thanks for writing. The D65 referendum was not asking for permission to build a new school. The district can do that without the taxpayers permission. Instead, D65 was asking voters for permission to issue $48.2 million in bonds to finance the school and repairs on other school buildings, because they otherwise would not have the cash to do so. In the future, the district could opt to go one of several routes. They could A) try to pass the referendum again without the money for school repairs, which would lower the requested amount of bonds to $20.6 million, B) try to seek out other funding methods, such as grants, private donations or sponsorship, C) drop the issue entirely or D) rework the total requested bond issuance and figure out a way to build the school for less. Other alternatives may exist of which I am unaware. Best, Jordan
victoria smith March 26, 2012 at 12:21 PM
I tend to differ on that comment Faith. We used to live on Judson, so our child would go to Lincoln. I chose to also apply to King Lab for my son because of it's highly rated Special Education programs there and because of having K-8. Not to mention the fact that back then Lincoln was having so many problems with violence. My neighbors son was one that was getting beaten up every day after school and it took them forever to do something about it. On another note...,When I lived in North Evanston and went to Linconwood school they bussed allot of children from across Bridge street. It was aparent that Evanston wanted the schools in that area to become more diverse, and the rest is history. We need to take care of the schools we have and stop spending money that doesn't exist. I am glad that we don't live in the Wilmette area, it certainly doesn't teach their children about ethnic culture! Who wrote they were traumatized about being bussed in junoir high? Really? I'd like to know why?
Sally March 26, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Another correction. The voters voted against the referendum. Not a new school.
Sally March 26, 2012 at 06:52 PM
I don't think anyone is advocating for segregated schools (certainly not anyone I know). However, if you live in a neighborhood where everyone looks the same, you should be able to choose whether or not you want to put your kid on a bus so that they can experience an integrated school. Many 'northsiders' put their kid on a bus to a magnet school for this very reason. The concern is that one community does not have that option. They are forcefully bused out of their neighborhood and into another that does not look anything like their community everyday in order to provide diversity for white students. Is that fair?
Jim March 26, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Fairness has nothing to do with everyone having the same thing. It is purely a man made concept that has to do with everyone having what he needs. Diversity is not a necessity. Nor is it a right. If it were, someone would have an obligation to provide it. Who?
Sally March 26, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Are you the same Jim that wrote above: "How about answering the questions of what is fair and what is good in terms of education and then looking for a solution for achieving the answers."? As I see it, long ago people decided it wasn't fair that women couldn't vote, so they fixed it. They decided people shouldn't receive less based on the color of their skin, so the civil rights movement happened. Currently in our society, many believe that it isn't fair to exclude gays from the benefits of marriage, and thus the laws are slowly changing. Many Evanstonians do not think that it is fair for one group to bear the burden of desegregation and want to see it changed. In addition to the issue of fairness, I would argue that it is not good for education to alienate a group of minority and low income parents by sending their kids into a community that is foreign and unwelcoming to them. What are the solutions? A school in the fifth ward. Busing in both directions? School choice? What do you think? Or do you really think the status quo is a-ok?
Jim March 27, 2012 at 12:38 AM
In keeping with my original remarks, the philosophical definition of fairness has nothing to do with equality. It has to do with giving individuals what they need in a given environment. Giving a child with a learning problem special attention is fair even though children without a learning problem do not receive the extra attention. Some would say that is not fair but it is eminently fair. Children do not need to be bused to learn, children do not need new schools to learn, children do not need diversity to learn tolerance and compassion. Because you or I want something that others have and don't get it is not unfair. Like I said previously we need to agree on what is fair and what is unfair and the definition cannot be arbitrary.
Marci March 27, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Close Lincoln? Clearly you must not live anywhere near Lincoln. It is above capacity and currently under construction to meet the needs of the increase in population in Southeast Evanston. Or, you were being sarcastic.
Jordan Graham March 27, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I just posted a follow up to this story that stemmed from covering the District 65 School Board's Monday night meeting. http://evanston.patch.com/articles/defeated-referendum-capacity-issues-a-focus-at-d65-school-board-meeting
Mary Anne March 28, 2012 at 02:25 PM
I think you're incorrect, Jordan. I think, as a matter of statute, no new school can be built without approval by referendum. Building improvement and renovation, on the other hand, can be accomplished without referendum approval, and Dist 65 has $24million of bonding authority already on the shelf for just that purpose.
Anna Fillmore March 28, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Mary Anne is correct on this issue: it is a matter of statute that school districts cannot build new schools without a referandum, regardless of their financial situation.
Jordan Graham March 28, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Thanks to both of you for clarifying that for me. I was unaware of that information. In that case, the term "planning to continue" would likely mean locating alternative funding for construction, as the money required to build the school seems to be a central reason many opposed the referendum. Based on the D65
Jordan Graham March 28, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Based on the Monday D65 school board meeting, it seems finding space for students when some schools are already at capacity will be a major issue in the near future.
Anon March 30, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I'm sorry, but as much as I love diversity....Evanston has turned it into a negative. If you don't agree with the referendum, you are racist (per Jerome S). People keep saying that the community deserves it and wants it, and yet the 5th ward had the lowest turnout for voting....showing that the 5th ward didn't want this enough to bother voting. Folks, this was just the beginning...a referendum to build a school and some necessary updates to other schools. There was no money to run the school...an estimated $1million per year. Where is that money coming from? Another referendum...basically "you voted to build it, now vote to run it....and make you checks out to....." Folks, Evanston residents are already over-taxed...stop the madness!
Jim March 30, 2012 at 07:43 PM
No surprises there, Anon. The Evanston neo-liberals think that they have a lock on rightousness and that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant and/or wrongheade. If they want it, someone else should be willing to pay for and if not, they are to be deemed selfish and maybe racist. Typical Saul Alinsky stuff.

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