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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.

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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