Cut Services To The

Vulnerable, And City Will Be More Vulnerable Too

Editor:

I am writing to remind you of  how important consistent and efficient social services are to the Evanston community, as well as to convey that the proposed Evanston Mental Health Board budget reductions will not only negatively affect those we support, but also the community at large.  As board president of Housing Options for the Mentally Ill, I am personally aware of what these shifts could represent.

Every day the more than 75 residents we serve are secure in the knowledge that they have a safe home, food in the refrigerator and an appreciation for the fact that they are not alone.  In 2009, Housing Options provided these very fundamental needs through more than 27,000 nights of affordable housing to some of the area’s most vulnerable populations – those who struggle with mental illnesses and homelessness. 

Social services like those provided by Housing Options are cost-effective.  A recent report on supportive housing services for the severely mentally ill shows the cost of services and housing is $27 per day for community-supported services versus an average of $204 per day for inpatient services. 

As budgets are reduced and services cut, how will those citizens of Evanston who are most vulnerable cope?  While we don’t know exactly what the change will be, we do know there will be negative outcomes.   We know also that the financial burden to the Evanston community will increase.  Not only will those in need suffer in countless ways, but additional hospital care, police time, ambulance costs, and court expenses will be standard and enduring.

So as the City Council considers the best ways to address the $9 million budget shortfall, I encourage all members not to be “penny wise and pound foolish,” and to wisely invest in all of our community.

— Debra A. Hill, President, Housing Options Board of Directors

Keep the Ecology

Center Open

Editor:

There has been much recent outcry in Evanston about budget cuts, particularly those cuts affecting the public library branches. 

I am not sure Evanston residents are aware, however, of another famous city institution on the budget chopping block: the Evanston Ecology Center.  I was shocked to learn recently that city leaders are proposing to completely shut down the Evanston Ecology Center this spring to help balance the budget. 

Closing this Center will affect thousands of Evanston citizens who benefit from its many enriching programs.  Over 725 day campers will miss out on opportunities such as Ecoquest and Ecoexplorer camps. 

Other programming will disappear, such as adult seminars, special recreation classes, high school internships, community gardens and Critter Crew, a group of grade school volunteers who spend many hours caring for the dozens of exotic animals in the Center’s education department.  Center staff bring these animals to Evanston public schools when they teach ecology education programs, so all of Evanston’s children will be affected by this budget cut. 

It rings hypocritcal of Evanston city leaders to have Evanston school children paint snazzy “save the environment” slogans on the city’s snowplows, and then, a few months later, close the very center which leads Evanston’s environmental efforts.

Then there is the matter of financial waste.  A mere three years ago, Evanston Environmental Association spearheaded a beautiful renovation of the Ecology Center, nearly doubling the Center’s size.  This renovation cost $850,000.  The money came from EEA, Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources, private donors, and city dollars What a tremendous waste, to spend so much time and effort, and then close the Center only three years later.

Evanston leaders say we cannot afford to have a city ecology center.  In these ecologically precarious times, Evanston can’t afford not to!  The council will be finalizing these decisions very soon, so I urge Evanston citizens to call and write their aldermen and mayor and tell them how much we value our Ecology Center.

– Margo E. Scholl

Keep Branch Libraries Open

Editor:

As a Resident of Evanston, and  Business Owner (Perennials, 2022 Central St.) in Evanston, I implore you to help us to save our branch libraries.

The impact of closing the library on this community ( I can only guess the south branch would be the same) would be devastating.  The North Branch Library represents a homey, safe place for kids and the elderly.

In discussions with many of my elderly customers, going to the downtown library would be difficult and overwhelming.  While it is a magnificent library, many say they don’t even know what floor they would go to, not sure how to get there and if lucky enough to get a ride, where could they sit to watch their ride come to take them home?  They can walk to the branch library.  They can watch out the front window for their ride. 

As far as my business goes, customers of all ages stop in with stacks of books.  Some stop in to pick up some tea to accompany their read.  Some stop in for plates and napkins for their book club.Many say as long as they were on Central Street they’d see what’s new and end up buying a card or gift.  It would hurt my sales (which the economy has already done), not to mention every store on this wonderful block.  I’m certain traffic would become slower without the draw of our library branch.

Also, I read a statement saying that people could easily go to the Wilmette library instead of their own town’s branch library. In my opinion, that is an insult to the small businesses surrounding the North Branch.  We work hard to keep our stores going, we work hard to create and maintain a community feeling on Central Street. We pay real estate taxes on our stores even though we don’t own the property.  We hire Evanston residents and keep our sales tax revenue in Evanston. 

 Please don’t let this shut down of our branch libraries happen.

— Patty O’Neill-Cynkar

Teachers Should Not Sign on ‘Race to the Top’

Editor:

In the January 20 edition of The Roundtable you ran an article by Larry Gavin about the “Race to the Top” education reforms recently adopted by Districts 65 and 202.  The article mentioned that the teachers’ union refused to sign on to the reforms. Mr. Gavin reported that Jean Luft, president of the union, claimed that because of winter break, the union did not have adequate time to inform its members of the program’s details

Cynical readers, no doubt, assumed the union was covering for teachers who are afraid of having their evaluations tied to student achievement or protecting its weakest members, who are simply incapable of preparing their students for college.  Some might even be operating under the assumption that teachers are afraid of merit pay systems that would base salary on evaluations.  Consider, just for the sake of argument, that cynical reasons like these are only part of the big picture. 

 As a high school English teacher with twenty-one years of experience preparing kids for college, I can tell you I am terrified of my evaluation being tied to “student achievement,” and I am equally terrified of merit pay, not because I am incapable of helping students score higher on the ACT. 

Rather, it is because I refuse to make ACT prep the focus of what I do in the classroom. I believe that teaching students the skills required to decode a standardized test is far less important than teaching them imagination, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking – none of which is assessed by the ACT.  

Instead the ACT tests my students on things like their ability to read quickly and their knowledge of comma placement.  Furthermore, I am convinced the ACT is a flawed and unfair test that should be dramatically revised or completely abolished, not adopted as the focal point of education reform.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that “the ACT has long-standing problems of bias, inaccuracy, coachability, and misuse.”  They point out that “Race, class and gender biases give white, affluent, and male test-takers an unfair edge.”  They argue that ACT scores are not an accurate predictor of college success, citing ACT’s own admission “that high school grades predict first-year college grades better than ACT scores do.”  ACT also admits that its test is unreliable; the margin of error ranges from 1.55-2.20 points, a significant number for students who are desperately fighting for every point so they will be accepted into the colleges of their choice and earn the scholarships they need to pay for tuition.

These serious flaws in the test are the reason I refuse to base my success as an educator on the scores my students receive on the test.  idea of my evaluation being connected to I have no problem with being evaluated on my students’ performance if their performance is assessed by some reliable measure and if the standards of the assessment are connected to the skills I value.  But until such a measure is designed, I refuse to race alongside eager politicians and school administrators to the peak of the molehill.

 I applaud the union for not buying into the shortsighted “Race to the Top.”  I only wish Jean Lutz would have addressed the real issues here instead of hiding behind the winter- break excuse.  What a sad state of affairs it is when professional educators are afraid to speak the truth because they are convinced a cynical public will not accept it.

— Mark Maxwel

It’s Not Evanston Being Green

I am disturbed by the uncertainty surrounding the Evanston Ecology Center’s future. Since moving to Evanston several years ago, our family has attended nearly all the programs offered there. For those of you who are unaware, the Center provides a broad array of family and adult programs year round at extremely affordable rates. The programs are well-designed to be intellectually stimulating for all ages while providing the cheeriness and warmth of a family get-together.

The opportunity to select a highly livable community was a significant part of deciding to move halfway across the country, and pulling up established roots and routines. Having lived in many different communities in several states, we’ve found that Evanston provides the perfect combination of cultural diversity, educational opportunities, civic involvement and community amenities. One such unique and distinguished amenity is our Ecology Center/Ladd Arboretum.

I do realize, however, that wonderful community amenities do not exist without funding. In light of the city’s budget shortfalls, I agree that we must reduce excess spending and find new revenue sources in order to close the forecasted widening budget gap. But shuttering the Ecology Center raises serious questions, not only about solutions or how we arrived at this fiscal situation, but about our city’s environmental policy and priorities.

Just last month, the council asserted new “green” building standards to put this city on the “vanguard of the environmental movement” and has made significant investments in establishing multi-modal transportation policies to increase bicycle and transit ridership, thus reducing unnecessary vehicle traffic and congestion. Yet, we’re proposing to eliminate an important longstanding “green” initiative: an educational facility with programming designed to shift the behavior of the current and future generations toward increased awareness of our natural world.

While the concepts of public policy or fiscal responsibility we’re struggling with might be lost on my son, he might be inclined to describe it simply as sustainability. If you’re wondering where he learned about that concept, you shouldn’t be surprised that it was at the Evanston Ecology Center.

— Laurence Audenaerd