On Sept. 26, the District 65 School Board continued its discussion about the New School Committee’s recommendation to 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.”

On the recommendation of Katie Bailey and Jerome Summers, both members of the School Board and co-chairs of the New School Committee, the Board voted to formally receive the Committee’s report that was presented at the Board’s Sept. 12 meeting. In a memo to the Board, they said, “The Board must now conduct its own due diligence …”

At the Sept. 26 meeting, the Board decided that, as part of its due diligence, it would update its analysis of the assumptions used in projecting student enrollment, evaluate different ways to address the District’s projected need for additional classroom space and the associated costs, analyze financing options, gather additional input from the community, and analyze potential sites for the proposed new school.

In the public comment session of the meeting, 10 persons urged the Board to approve the new school, all of whom said it was necessary to provide a neighborhood school to students in the central core of the Fifth Ward, many adding it would also address the space needs of the District.

Several persons urged the Board to closely examine the costs of building and operating a new school.

Mr. Summers said the community in the Fifth Ward “sacrificed their neighborhood school for the benefit of the entire community” as part of the desegregation plan adopted in the 1960s. He pointed out that the District had approved additions to Willard and Dewey schools and was obtaining bids to renovate Lincoln school, all of which has been without objection and without a referendum. He said there is “an issue of fairness.”

Speaking to the larger community, he said, “Do the honorable thing. Show your courage. Show your integrity. Step up for these children who don’t have the resources that your children have.”

Board member Richard Rykhus said, “I look at this issue as an opportunity for us to really unite Evanston behind the solution as opposed to dividing Evanston.” He said the Board had a responsibility to look at the long-term capacity needs of the District, the social justice issues that have been raised, and how to ensure that all students succeed. He said, “while the solution may not end to be exactly like any one person thinks it should, he thought the Board could reach a solution that “really does end up unifying us instead of dividing us.”

The Board is scheduled to examine these issues at four meetings in October and November and to reach a decision in December.

An Updated Look at Enrollment Projections

Estimating the District’s future need for classroom space depends in large part on the projections used for student enrollment. In the last four years, the District’s K-8 enrollment (excluding Rice and Park schools) has increased by 703 students, from 6,110 to 6,813 students. The enrollment is expected to continue rising, according to projections prepared in January 2010 by John D. Kasarda, Ph.D., a consulting demographer, and prepared in February 2011 by District 65 staff. The projections are shown in the accompanying table.

Dr. Kasarda projected District 65’s enrollment using three different scenarios. The assumptions used for the three scenarios were the same except for an assumption about housing turnover, which he says impacts the net in-migration of school-age children. Kasarda B projections assume that “future trends in housing turnover would roughly mirror the average of the past four years.” Kasarda A projections assume housing turnover would be less than the average, and Kasarda C assume housing turnover would be more than the average.

For the 2011-12 school year, District 65’s projections were low by 139 students. Kasarda B was low by 214 students, and Kasarda C was low by 76 students.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki asked that the administration gather updated information concerning housing turnovers – an assumption used in Dr. Kasarda’s projections – to assist in evaluating whether Kasarda B or Kasarda C were more likely, and to ask Dr. Kasarda for his views in light of the updated housing market data and the increases in student enrollment after he issued his report.

Andy Pigozzi said there were known factors driving up student enrollment. He added it was important to assess trends that were increasing enrollment at certain schools and to recognize that as classes moved up to the middle schools, there would be substantial space needs at those schools.

Board president Ms. Bailey asked administrators to gather the information and to follow up with Dr. Kasarda and also to follow up with Valerie Kretchmer, a real estate and planning consultant, who was retained by the District in 2009-10 to provide data concerning real estate and demographic trends. She asked administrators to provide a short memo to the Board reporting their findings.

Evaluating Alternative Options to Address Space Needs

In response to the Board’s request at the Sept. 12 meeting, Superintendent Hardy Murphy proposed a method to evaluate different strategies or scenarios to address the District’s projected future enrollments. Some of the scenarios to manage enrollment proposed by Dr. Murphy in a memo to the Board include building a new school, adding classroom space to existing schools, limited redistricting, and reorganization (magnet/grade span).

Dr. Murphy proposed to evaluate and compare the scenarios by estimating their cost, including capital and operating costs; by assessing their impact on instruction, including the curriculum, resource allocation and instructional time; and by assessing their impact on class size as well as other factors. He added, “The evaluation will include impact to the District including students and families, and the issues of cost and social justice.”

Mr. Rykhus said he thought it was important for the Board to conduct an in-depth analysis on student achievement and to evaluate “what is going to be best for the students.” He also proposed five possible scenarios for the Board to consider.

Ms. Quattrocki likewise said the Board should discuss what could be done academically for students in the proposed new school, and what the new school’s curriculum would look like.

The Board identified two scenarios for the administration to evaluate and asked the administration to identify other scenarios that would provide a complete long-term answer to the District’s space needs.

One scenario selected by the Board is establishing a new school in the central, core and adding classroom space to other schools. Another scenario is to assess whether the District could address the District’s space needs without adding any new classroom space, and if so, what it would take to do so, such as increasing class size, using cap-and-transfer, etc. The intent of the latter scenario is to demonstrate to the community what the schools will look like if space is not added.

Board members will be given an opportunity to review and comment on the additional scenarios identified by the administration before they are evaluated. The administration is scheduled to present an analysis of the scenarios and associated costs and financing options to the Board on Oct. 14.

Location of a Proposed New School

The New School Committee did not identify a location for the proposed 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”). This is roughly the attendance area of the old Foster School.

On Sept. 26, Dr. Murphy and Mr. Brinson listed seven potential locations in the central core for the new school. They include the Family Focus building (the old Foster School); Foster Field, located north of the Family Focus building; the “Bishop Freeman property,” which Dr. Murphy said may no longer be available; an open lot between Foster and Emerson due east of the Bishop Freeman property; and three parks along the Northshore channel that are owned by MWRD – Twiggs Park, Butler Park and Beck Park.

Dr. Murphy said the District has not had conversations with representatives of Family Focus about the use of their building and that only preliminary contact has been made with MWRD. He said that a preliminary analysis of Foster Field, which is owned by the District but subject to a lease, indicates that a school building could be constructed on that property without losing the use of the field for football or soccer.

The administration is scheduled to present information concerning the availability and suitability of the potential locations for a new school at the Board’s Oct. 24 meeting. If the Board is leaning toward establishing a new school in the central core, Ms. Bailey said the Board could discuss at that meeting how to obtain community input.

Community Input

Mr. Rykhus said after the Board reached a preliminary decision on how to address the District’s space needs, it should take that package and obtain feedback from the community. He said the Board could also use that as an opportunity to educate the community.

Ms. Quattrocki said she thought the Board needed to talk to the community in light of the responses given by parents in the central core in a survey conducted by ECRA. She added she would like to find out how many parents in the central core would send their children to the proposed new school.

The survey report, prepared by ECRA, said most parents “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.” The report said parents “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.”

The survey report also said parents felt “they should have a choice as to whether to send their child to the new school” and that one area critical to parents was “more focus on ethnic and socioeconomic diversity and balance in the student population.”

The ethnicity of the new school is currently projected to be 63% black, 30% Hispanic, and 7% Asian, Pacific Islander and white, according to the Committee’s report.

Ms. Bailey said the Board could talk about community input at the Oct. 24 Board meeting and perhaps hold community meetings or visioning sessions between the Oct. 24 and the Nov. 21 Board meetings.

Kim Weaver questioned whether community meetings would be necessary because the community could vote on whether to approve a new school in a referendum. Mr. Pigozzi said he thought meetings with the community could be held after the Board voted on whether to recommend a new school, and used for the purpose of educating the community about the issues.

If the Board decides to place the new school issue on the March 2012 ballot, it must make that decision by Dec. 19, said Mary Brown, chief financial officer. During the public comment session, several speakers said the Board should approve the new school without requiring a referendum.

K-8 Enrollment Projections (excluding Park and Rice)

                          Actual     Dist. 65    Kasarda B   Kasarda C

2009-10           6,339     

2010-11           6,573        NA             6,478          6,549

2011-12           6,813        6,674         6,599         6,737

2012-13                            6,762         6,724         6,923

2013-14                           6,809         6,838           7,093

2014-15                            6,867         6,936         7,240

2015-16                            6,943        7,031         7,348

2016-17                                              7,109          7,437

2017-18                                              7,103           7,442

2018-19                                              7,101           7,451

2019-20                                              7,099            7,444

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...