The District 65 School Board has pushed back the timetable to decide whether or not to put a referendum on the ballot to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward.

The proposed new school that has been under discussion by the Board is for an 18 classroom school that would be adjacent to the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, the site of the old Foster School. The estimated cost to build a new “basic school” is $14 million.

On Oct. 4, the Board, appointed Board members Katie Bailey and Jerome Summers to a committee to explore putting the referendum question on the ballot for the April 5, 2011 election. There was a tight timeline to get the question on the ballot, which included having the committee present its recommendations to the Board on Dec. 6, and the Board to vote on Dec. 13 whether to place the question on the ballot.

On Oct. 18, Ms. Bailey outlined the issues the committee would need to address and said she was concerned that the committee would not be able to resolve all the necessary issues and get the input needed by Dec. 6. “I think we need more time,” she said. “I don’t think we can do the job in the next six weeks. I want to make sure we can do this right.”

Many Board members thought the process would be rushed if it had to be completed within six weeks. They said taking additional time would provide an opportunity to analyze the data more thoroughly, to obtain community input, and to look at student enrollment data for the 2011-12 school year. They stressed a delay would not be killing the issue.

Board president Keith Terry summed up the Board’s sentiment saying, “All of the Board seems to be saying it’s difficult to get it done by Dec. 13.” He said the District would aim for the March 2012 election. He added, “We don’t stop this. I suggest we take a little more time. If we’re going to do this, we need a 7-0 vote.”

The Commitee

Ms. Bailey and Mr. Summers proposed that the committee have 11 members. Under their proposal, each School Board member will recommend one person to serve on the committee. Ms. Bailey and Mr. Summers will also serve on the committee, and they will appoint two additional members to try to ensure that all interests in the community are represented on the committee.

The goal, Ms. Bailey said, would be to include people on the committee who bring the following perspectives: parent, neighborhood, historical, community (Northwestern, business, etc.), and education.

The Board decided by consensus that Ms. Bailey and Mr. Summers will recommend persons to serve on the committee at the Board’s Nov. 15 meeting. Committee membership is subject to Board approval.

The Committee’s Charge

The Committee’s charge will be to determine the feasibility of building a new school, taking into account the District’s need for additional classroom space and community support. Ms. Bailey said, “I’m not presupposing an answer. We’re going into it open.”

The Committee will be asked to address a number of questions, including the following:

• A design of curriculum and program options;

• Attendance options for a new school;

• Location options;

• Funding and governing options (including implications of a charter school);

• Financing options;

• Historical and educational issues; and

• If the Committee recommends a new school, the referendum questions to be posed.

Mr. Summers said the Committee will address all of these issues and come up with a feasibility plan.

Several Board members have urged that the District survey the residents in the neighborhood surrounding the location of the proposed new school; Dr. Murphy suggested that the ECRA Group be used to conduct the survey..

Bonnie Lockhart urged that community input be obtained in forums, and that a survey be conducted of the entire community. She said, “We need to prove it [the new school] is needed and the community would support it.”

Mr. Summers said there are 600 students in Fifth Ward who are not able to attend a school in their neighborhood.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...