The District 65 School Board considered updated projections of student enrollment and five ways to address the District’s need for additional classroom space at a Board Finance Committee meeting on Nov. 14.
Board members expressed divergent views on the best way to address the District’s need for additional space, ranging from a combination of increasing class sizes and building onto the middle schools to building a new school in a triangular area bounded by the North Shore channel, Green Bay Road and Church Street, referred to as the “central core.”
At the meeting, there did not appear to be a consensus emerging among Board members. The Board is scheduled to hold two community forums before meeting again on Nov. 21, when it is scheduled to make some hard decisions.
The Updated Projections
The Board considered updated projections of student enrollment prepared by District 65 administrators and by John D. Kasarda, a consulting demographer. The enrollment projections differ substantially for the District as a whole, but are very similar for the three schools that have previously been identified as having a need for additional space.
District 65 projects that student enrollment at the K-5 grade levels will decrease over the next five years (through 2016-17) by 143 students and that it will increase at the grade 6-8 levels by 367 students, for a total net increase of 224 students.
Dr. Kasarda projects for the same five-year period in his “most likely” scenario that enrollment will increase at the K-5 grade levels by 295 students and that it will increase at the 6-8 grade levels by 440 students, for a total net increase of 735 students.
While the district-wide projections differ substantially, the five-year projections of growth at Lincolnwood Elementary School, Haven Middle School and Nichols Middle School (the three schools which have been projected to have space needs) are very similar:
- Both District 65 and Dr. Kasarda project enrollment at Lincolnwood will increase by 38 students.
- District 65 projects that Haven’s enrollment will increase by 161 students; Dr. Kasarda projects the increase will be 187 students.
- District 65 projects that Nichol’s enrollment will increase by 190 students; Dr. Kasarda projects the increase will be 184 students.
Lora Taira, chief information officer for the District, said that based on Dr. Kasarda’s updated projections the District will need 20 additional classrooms: four at Lincolnwood, eight at Haven, and eight at Nichols.
Five Options to Address Space Needs
Paul Brinson, consultant, summarized five ways the District could address the District’s space needs. The five methods, together with the District’s estimated costs (including capital costs plus one year’s operating costs) are summarized as follows:
Option #1: Change policies, such as increase class sizes, move special programs, implement cap and transfer. There is no capital cost or increased operating cost associated with this option.
Option #2: Build classrooms and upgrade Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols schools to accommodate additional students, at an estimated cost of $21.6 million.
Option #3: Build a new K-8 school for 620 students in the central core and add classrooms and upgrades at Nichols at an estimated cost of $45.4 million.
Option #4: Build a new K-5 school for 415 students in the central core and add classrooms and upgrades to both Haven and Nichols at an estimated cost of $41.7 million.
Option #5: Build a new 6-8 school for 415 students in the central core, at an estimated cost of $30.7 million.
Using Option #1 would not have the draconian impact initially anticipated by the Board. Ms. Taira said increasing class sizes by one student at Lincolnwood and converting the art room to a classroom for one year would address the space needs at Lincolnwood. As to the middle schools, she said, “If the average middle school class size target is increased to 26, classrooms at Haven and Nichols could be repurposed to address their space needs.”
District administrators say that Options 3, 4 and 5 would address to varying degrees the social justice concern of restoring a school to the central core. They say that building a new K-8 school (Option #3) or a K-5 school (Option #4) in the central core “would be a significant step toward redressing the neighborhood school concerns of families within the central core.” Building a 6-8 school (Option # 5) in the central core “would help address the neighborhood school concerns.”
In an attempt to narrow the number of options under consideration, School Board members gave their views about various options.
Richard Rykhus said, “I think we need to give some strong consideration to keeping on the table either [Options] one or two, or some hybrid of them, that has us look with a little more specificity at the constraints with the middle schools and keeping some reasonable amount of space for the kids there, knowing that the rooms vary by size.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations over the last three months, as I suspect many of us have. Some of the most compelling ones have been when I take my son to the Church Street Barber Shop. I ask every time I go in there, ‘What do you think about the new school?’ And there are very, very mixed opinions about what a new school could mean. And one of the concerns that has really struck me most is, ‘Are we going to get enough resources?
“As I think about the financial challenges we have and I think about social justice, for me, I think it’s important to expand how we’re defining social justice because I do think a big part of it is ensuring we’re giving resources to the kids who most need it where they are. And I’m concerned that if we make a more permanent solution it might end up diluting the resources that we can put into the schools.”
Jerome Summers said, “If a school is not built in that community [the central core], there is no social justice, first of all. Secondly, when we talk about building everywhere else we don’t talk about these hard economic time and these taxes. We don’t - $20 million already [referring to upgrades at Willard, Dewey and Lincoln schools]. I’m sorry. That’s how I feel about it.
“It is at the elementary school level where community is built. That community has been decimated by lack of commonality of experience with their children.
“Building prices are low now. Interest rates are low now. We need classrooms right now. We can solve a whole lot of problems with one fell swoop.
“I believe the good people of Evanston will help with this because they know that wrong has been done to this community.”
Tracy Quattrocki said, “If I had to choose what I would like the most for the central core it would be a K-5 school, to be idealistic. It seems the best for that community. That’s what I could get excited about academically.”
She said, though, “My concerns about a new school would be that we would have to have enough resources to do something really beyond what we’re doing in the neighborhood schools – to add extended day, to go to year-around schooling, to have supports in the community school to do something that would really make the difference.”
Ms. Quattrocki asked for more detailed numbers about the incremental cost of providing these services and to present them in the context of the District’s overall operating budget. She also asked if the Board was prepared to ask the community to increase operating expenses in a referendum, saying this is something that had to be discussed.
Board president Katie Bailey said that the cost information presented by the administration showed that Option 3 (building a K-8 school and adding classroom space and making upgrades to Nichols) was more expensive than Option 4 (building a K-5 school and adding classrooms and making upgrades to Haven and Nichols).
She said, “If I were to choose between Options 3 and 4 now, to me Option 4 makes more sense.” She said Option 4 (the K-5 school with additions and upgrades at Haven and Nichols) “deals with the issues of capacity and social justice” in that it restores a school in the central core and it also deals with “social justice in some sense for our middle schools because it’s talking about upgrading our middle schools that need work.”
Andy Pigozzi said, “If we’re talking about passing a referendum, it’s a Herculean effort. Very, very difficult especially in this day and age, and I think you have to sober up and realize that.” He said, Realistically, I think we should ask ourselves what has the best chance of actually passing and being appealing to 80,000 people who live in Evanston.
“To me,” he said, “the middle schools are a good place to start. I’m leaning toward Option 5 (a new 6-8 school) because it focuses on that. I think the notion of Haven going to 950 kids is not very appealing to a lot of people.” He added that he would include adding improvements to all the middle schools, including Chute and the magnet schools so the entire community sees how it will benefit them.
Kim Weaver said, “I’m in favor of a K-5 school; I would support a K-8 school. But what I like about Option 4 (a K-5 school) is based on what Andy just said. I think we should think about the entire District. I think you’re right. Our middle schools are neglected. What I see passing is a referendum to meet social justice issues in a K-5 school, and then to meet the needs of all our community members is having all of our middle schools upgraded.
She acknowledged it would cost a lot, but said, “We’re taking the District forward 20 years. …It’s making substantive change for our District.”
Eileen Budde said, “I like Richard’s statement that maybe a hybrid of Options 1 and 2 makes sense. I was really surprised at how not so much unpleasant the changed assumptions looked to me when I first saw it in the packet.
“The one thing I’m hung up on is Haven getting really big. So I can’t really get comfortable with Option 1 entirely. But the hybrid, I think I can get very comfortable with that as long as we somehow make Haven more palatable.
“If we have to go to building, I agree with Andy, we have to have something that appeals across the board and be practical and [Option] 5 would be my preference because there is a proven middle school space need. I don’t think we can sell building a K-5 school because we just don’t have as much of a need there.”
The Board is scheduled to hold community forums on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. Board members asked administrators to present additional information at their Nov. 21 meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., after the community forum. Ms. Bailey said the Board should make decisions at that meeting.