The District 65 New School/Referendum Committee presented its report, approved by an 11-1 vote, to the District 65 School Board on Sept. 12. The Committee recommends that the District establish a new K-8 school in the Fifth Ward west of Green Bay Road. The cost to construct the new school, anticipated to accommodate approximately 600 students, is estimated at $25 million.
The Committee’s recommendation to establish the new school is based on two primary reasons: 1) to provide additional classroom space in light of projected increases in student enrollment; and 2) to address the needs of students in the Fifth Ward area who have not had a neighborhood school since 1967, an issue of “social justice.”
Kirby Callam and Betsy Jenkins, joined by other members of the Committee, presented the report to the School Board. Three Board members, Katie Bailey, Jerome Summers, and Kim Weaver, served on the Committee.
The Board asked questions concerning enrollment projections, building capacity, a parent survey and financing. A substantial portion of the meeting focused on the need to establish a neighborhood school in the Fifth Ward as a matter of social justice. Many Committee members and many in the audience spoke to this issue.
Board member Richard Rykhus said, “Especially in light of this year’s enrollment showing that we are on a higher track for student growth, we are going to be left with some difficult choices as a Board.”
The Proposed School
The proposed K-8 school would have three classes at each grade level and 30 classrooms. The Committee recommends that special education and language programs be established at the school, and that the Board gather community input to help shape the curriculum.
The Committee did not identify a location for the new school, but recommends it be located in a triangular area in the Fifth Ward bounded by the Northshore Channel, Green Bay Road, and Church Street (the “central core”). (See map.) This is roughly the attendance area of the old Foster School, and it is the proposed attendance area for the new school.
Under the proposal, students in the attendance area who are currently attending a District 65 school would be given the option of continuing to attend their current school or attending the new school. Siblings would be given the same option.
The ethnicity of the new school is currently projected to be 63% black, 30% Hispanic, and 7% Asian, Pacific Islander and white, says the report.
The Committee left open the option that the new school be a charter school, but cautioned that a charter school must be open to all students in the District. The Committee notes that a charter school would be incompatible with its recommendation that the school be an attendance- area school.
Addressing Space Needs
Estimating the District’s future need for classroom space depends on the projections used for student enrollment and the assumptions used to determine a school building’s capacity.
The Committee’s report relies on the enrollment projections prepared by Dr. John Kasarda, an independent demographer retained by the School Board, which are higher than those prepared by staff at District 65. (See sidebar below.) In his January 2010 report, Dr. Kasarda projected that District 65’s K-8 enrollment would increase by 603 students between the fall of 2010 and 2019 under the “most likely” scenario; and that it would increase by 957 students under a “greater than anticipated” scenario.
The assumptions used by the Committee in assessing building capacity include an assumption that a building is at capacity if the student enrollment is at 80 percent of that permitted under the District’s class size guidelines. This roughly averages to about 20 students per class at the K-5 grade levels and about 25 students at the 6-8 grade levels. (See sidebar below.)
“Using a mid-range estimate from Dr. Kasarda of approximately 700 students” and based upon a set of assumptions to assess the capacity of the schools (summarized in the sidebar below), the Committee concluded “the District needs more than 30 additional homerooms, plus space to meet other program requirements, to educate the additional students expected.” This need is in addition to the additional classrooms just added to Dewey and Willard schools and those planned at Lincoln school, says the report.
On an individual basis, the report says the following schools are projected to need additional classrooms to meet the “maximum projected enrollments and to maintain target classroom enrollments of 20 (or fewer) students”:
• Lincolnwood – 4 to 6 classrooms
• Orrington – 2 to 4 classrooms
• Haven – 6 classrooms
• Lincoln – 4 to 6 classrooms
• Nichols – 12 classrooms
The report says the Committee believes that establishing a new K-8 school in the central core will resolve projected enrollment issues at Lincolnwood, Orrington, and Haven as well as address “the essential social justice concern.” The Committee, though, adds a caveat that “a challenge remains for Lincoln and Nichols that must be resolved separately.”
The Board is currently in the process of seeking bids to renovate and add nine additional classrooms to Lincoln at a preliminary cost estimate of $7.4 million. The Board has not yet approved the project.
Drew Stover, the only dissenting member of the Committee, says that Dr. Kasarda’s projections are not reliable for predicting needs at individual schools; and he questioned whether there was a need for additional classrooms at Lincolnwood and Orrington, citing District 65’s enrollment projections. He also said the Board should carefully examine the assumptions used in determining the capacity of the schools.
School Board member Tracy Quattrocki asked questions about Dr. Kasarda’s enrollment projections, and whether there was a sound basis to use the higher of his projections. She asked whether an updated analysis could be conducted.
Paul Brinson, former chief information officer and now a consultant to the District, said Mr. Kasarda’s “most likely” projections were low by 144 students as of the start of this school year, 2011-2012, and added that the District’s actual enrollment this year was closer to Dr. Kasarda’s higher projections.
Mr. Brinson also said that the number of children under 5 years old in Evanston had increased by 1,500, when comparing the 2000 census data to the 2005-09 American Community Survey Estimates.
Board member Andy Piggozi, an architect specializing in the design of schools, said, “I’m convinced we need the space. The numbers are valid. There’s no question we’re seeing an increase in enrollment.”
Mr. Rykhus asked about using the assumption that a school building was at capacity if student enrollment was at 80% of the class size guidelines and explored several other assumptions.
Mr. Brinson said schools run into problems if they exceed 80% capacity, and that keeping them around 80% capacity allows more flexibility to manage enrollment in the classrooms and schools.
Mr. Piggozi said when a new school is designed, it is designed at 70% capacity. He added that he rarely sees a school over 80% capacity. “If you get above 80%, it really starts to become unmanageable,” he said.
Addressing the Needs of Students in The Central Core/Social Justice
An additional consideration viewed by the Committee as “pivotal” is addressing the needs of students in the central core, an issue of “social justice.”
Students in the central core were historically served by Foster School. Under the District’s desegregation plan in 1967, Foster School, which was 99 percent African American, was closed as a neighborhood school and converted into a magnet school to draw white students to the school and desegregate it. The old Foster School was later closed altogether in 1979 as part of a series of school closings.
Since 1967, more than 400 African American students have been bused each year from the central core area to other schools in the District. Currently, K-5 students in the central core are assigned to Willard, Lincolnwood, Kingsley and Orrington schools, and many attend Dewey, Oakton, Walker, Washington, Bessie Rhodes and King Lab.
The Committee found that more than 700 students currently attend schools outside their historical neighborhoods in the central core, and these students “are fragmented across the District as evidenced by the fact that students from the Central Core attend virtually every school in the District.”
“The concern for those students who are unable to walk to a neighborhood school, have a neighborhood PTA and community center, or offer convenient opportunities for full parent participation in the academic success of their children became a[n] [additional] consideration,” says the report.
“These students could best be served by a neighborhood school, and the projected space needs at the other schools could, in large part, be met at the same time.”
Many Committee members supported establishing a school in the central core for this reason. Lloyd Shepard said, “We are looking at kids who have been on buses for 40 years. When do you reach a point in this community when you change that? We talk about social justice in this community. We talk about diversity in this community. But in large part, it is superficial.”
Ms. Jenkins said, “This school is needed in the central core. How much more harm are we going to do to the children. … I’m tired of kids being toted all around town. I’m tired of parents not coming to school, first off, because they can’t get there, and second, when they get there they don’t feel welcome. We need to correct this.”
Mr. Summers referred to the uproar that occurred several years ago when 15 to 20 students at Willard School were about to be transferred from their neighborhood school under the District’s cap-and-transfer plan. Parents lined up to say it was wrong, he said. By contrast he said, “We bus out, walk out, permissive-transfer out 600 to 800 kids every day for decades from this neighborhood.”
Referring to the 1960s desegregation plan, Mr. Summers said, “It was a noble experiment. It really was. And probably in that time it was the right thing to do. But that decision has been disastrous for that community. It has disintegrated that community, where children don’t know each other, so parents don’t know each other, and everybody is a stranger in their own neighborhoods. … Send our children home.”
Susan Hope Engel said, “We weighed very carefully everything … and it kept coming back to the same premise which was making a community whole. Social injustice needed to be addressed.”
Jean Luft, a member of the Committee and president of the District Educators Council (the teachers’ union), said, “We need to correct the social injustice.”
Mr. Rykhus asked how to reconcile the public comments he heard about social justice with the comments of District 65 parents in the central core in response to survey questions. The survey report said, “The greatest concern from parents regarding a new school in the (central core) is that most do not want to withdraw their children from their current school since they are happy with the quality of education their children are receiving in their current school and do not want to disrupt their children’s education or friendships they have formed.”
In offering an explanation, Mr. Summers pointed to other parts of the survey report. The report said parents were not opposed to the new school and they “would like additional information about exactly what is being proposed so they are in a better position to judge the likelihood of sending their children to a new school.”
Mr. Callam said parents were asked about a school where they and their children had concrete relationships and then about a school that was not defined and unknown. He said it was not unexpected they would give the responses they did.
Ms. Quattrocki said the survey did not come out with a strong message. “We may need to get the community involved in a stronger way and then we won’t have to argue if the survey is valid.”
The Costs/Possible Referendum
The “ball park” cost to construct the new school is $25 million. In addition, the Committee’s report says there will be “a net annual staff cost” to operate a new school of about $2.1 million and an additional $160,000 for utilities and other expenses.
On May 12 the Committee heard a presentation from Richard Murray who said, “I’m very confident that I could come up with probably two and maybe three ways that you could get the school built without any tax revenues.” Superintendent Hardy Murphy has been discussing a potential arrangement with Mr. Murray, and the Committee left it to the Board to pursue alternative funding for the school with an outside consultant.
At the Board’s Sept. 12 meeting, Lynda Given, a partner at the law firm Chapman and Cutler, said the general rule is that a referendum is required to construct a new school. She added that an exception to the rule is that a referendum is not required if the construction of a school building is completed while the building is being leased by the school district.
She explained how the District could take advantage of this “loophole” and have a new school built without a referendum. One drawback to this approach is that the District would be required to use its debt service extension base (DSEB) to make it work; and this would reduce the availability of DSEB funds for other building work and technology planned by the District. In April, Mary Brown, chief financial officer, estimated that the District could access approximately $45 million through its DSEB, and she identified life/safety work to buildings in the amount of $35 million, potential additions to school buildings (some of which would not be necessary if a new school were built) estimated at a high of $17.2 million, and technology pegged at $10 million.
Board members asked for a report on how all this would play out if the District tapped its DSEB to construct a new school.
In addition to discussing the possibility of a referendum to approve funding for the capital cost of constructing a new school, the Committee’s report floats the possibility of a referendum to increase the property tax base to enable the District to increase operating revenues. Last month the District projected deficits of $3.4 million, $3.9 million, $6.5 million and $8.8 million for school years 2012-13 through 2015-16, which do not take into account the added operating expenses anticipated for the new school. The Committee says, “Thus, a referendum to raise the tax cap is likely in order to meet the District’s increased operating costs, whether or not a new school is built.”
Mr. Pigozzi raised an issue which could require some adjustments to the Committee’s proposal. He said he thought the proposed school, with 90,000 square feet of space, would require a five-acre site. He questioned whether there was an available site in the Fifth Ward that would accommodate the proposed school.
Kim Weaver said there are many unanswered questions, and that the Board needs to move to the next step. She said, “This is a process.”
Ms. Bailey, president of the Board, asked the administration to analyze potential locations for the proposed new school, including a smaller school, and to explore the financing options. She asked the administration to bring back to the Board a status report, a timeline and a statement of pros and cons for the new school.
The Board will continue discussions at its next meeting. “This is a process,” said Ms. Bailey.If all parents in the proposed attendance area of the new school opt to send their children to the new school, Kingsley would lose 113 students, Lincolnwood would lose 74 students and Willard would lose 99 students, according to data presented to the Committee by Paul Brinson, then chief information officer of the District. Lincolnwood, Kingsley and Willard schools would be much less diverse if these students were transferred to the new school.
It is possible that the attendance areas of Kingsley and other schools will need to be redrawn to balance out the enrollments at these north-end schools and also to address any overcrowding at Orrington School.
In addition, students residing south of Church Street and west of Dodge Avenue are currently assigned to Lincolnwood or to Walker, depending on their residence. Superintendent Hardy Murphy told the New School Committee that the administration recommends that all students in this area be assigned to Walker School. According to data in the Committee’s report, this would increase the enrollment of Walker School by about 50 students, which could cause overcrowding at Walker. The Committee recommends that the Administration make a proposal to the Board that addresses the needs of these students and ensures contiguous boundaries.
Projections of Student EnrollmentThe New School Committee was presented with two sets of projections of student enrollment, one prepared by District 65 and the other by Dr. John Kasarda, a consulting demographer.
District 65 issued projections on Feb. 11, 2011, that the District’s K-8 enrollment will increase by a total of 370 students over the next five years (measured as the difference in enrollment between the 2010-11 school year and the 2015-16 school year), with 86% of the increase occurring at the middle schools. The District’s projections were low by 139 students through the first year of its five-year projections.
In February 2010, Dr. Kasarda projected District 65’s student enrollment using three different scenarios. He projected that District 65’s K-8 enrollment would increase by a total of 597 students over the next five years (measured as the difference between 2009-10 and 2014-15) under his “”most likely”” scenario, with 34% of the increase occurring at the middle schools. His projections under the “”most likely”” scenario were low by 144 students through 2011-12.
Going 10 years out, Dr. Kasarda projected an increase of 760 students between 2009-10 and 2019-20 under his “”most likely”” scenario, and 1,105 under his “”greater than anticipated”” scenario.Estimating the Capacity of School Buildings
The capacity of each school building will differ – sometimes substantially – depending on the assumptions used in estimating its capacity. In computing the capacity of each school, Paul Brinson, then chief information officer of the District, determined the number of rooms in each school building that qualified for use as general education classrooms. This was determined using the following assumptions:
• All schools should have a dedicated classroom for art;
• Classrooms should have at least 600 square feet (although some rooms in excess of 590 square feet were counted);
• Classrooms currently used for special education should continue to be used for that purpose; and,
• Classrooms dedicated to convenience purposes (e.g., child care, teacher lounge, etc.) may be repurposed as general education classrooms.
After determining the number of general education classrooms at each school, Mr. Brinson calculated the number of students each school could accommodate assuming that the classrooms had a number of students equal to 80 percent of the maximum allowed under the District’s class size guidelines. (The guidelines permit 23 students at kindergarten, 25 at first and second grade, 26 at third grade, 27 at fourth and fifth grades, and 30 at sixth-eighth grades). Mr. Brinson said that using 80 percent of the class-size guidelines permits active management of year-to-year population shifts and provides flexibility to place each student in the right school and classroom.
Next, Mr. Brinson determined whether and by how much each school would be overcrowded using the District’s student enrollment projections for that school and also using Dr. Kasarda’s projections.