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The District 65 School Board considered updated projections of student enrollment and various ways to address the District’s need for additional classroom space at meetings on Nov. 14 and 21. They held community forums before each of those meetings as well as on Nov. 16.

After reviewing updated enrollment projections, the administration is projecting a need for two additional classrooms at Lincolnwood Elementary School, and eight classrooms at both Haven and Nichols Middle Schools.

On Nov. 21, Superintendent Hardy Murphy recommended opening a new K-5 school in the triangular area bounded by the North Shore Channel, Green Bay Road and Church Street, referred to as the “central core.” He also recommended adding eight classrooms to both Haven and Nichols by converting the existing science rooms into general classrooms and building new updated science rooms at those schools.

 In a memo to the Board, Dr. Murphy said, “Opening a new K-5 school and converting and adding space at the middle schools not only addresses the social justice and space needs, but also gives the District an opportunity to optimize learning environments, especially in the area of science instruction.”

Board members reached a consensus on establishing a new K-5 school containing three classes per grade level that will accommodate 415 students. They also decided that parents in the central core would have a choice of whether to send their children to the new school or their current attendance-area school.

Board members also reached consensus on the proposed improvements to Haven and Nichols and may also include upgrades to the science labs at Chute.

It appears that the building projects will all be subject to a referendum. The Board asked Dr. Murphy to provide additional information about costs and possible referendum questions at their next meeting scheduled for Dec. 5.

At the community forums, about 45 persons spoke in favor of establishing a K-5 or K-8 school in the central core, all on grounds of equity and social justice.

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 K-5 grade levels, but they both show substantial growth at the middle schools. See accompanying charts. In addition, the projections are very similar for the three schools – Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols – that have been identified as having a need for additional space:

• Both District 65 and Dr. Kasarda project enrollment at Lincolnwood will increase from 430 to 468 students, or by 38 students.

• District 65 projects that Haven’s enrollment will increase from 700 to 861 students or by 161 students; Dr. Kasarda projects the increase will be 187 students.

• District 65 projects that Nichol’s enrollment will increase from 546 to 736 students, or by 190 students; Dr. Kasarda projects the increase will be 184 students.

Based on Dr. Kasarda’s updated projections the District estimates it will need a total of 18 additional classrooms: two at Lincolnwood, eight at Haven, and eight at Nichols.

Five Options to Address Space Needs

On Nov. 21, the Board considered five ways to address the District’s space needs at Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols. Administrators said that each method would provide a complete answer to the District’s space needs and that options c, d and e would address to varying degrees the social justice concern of establishing a school in the central core:

a) Increase class sizes at Lincolnwood by one student and convert the art room to a classroom, and increase the class size target at Haven and Nichols to 26 students and convert two or three rooms at each school, such as computer labs, the shop or an art room, into classrooms.

b) Increase class sizes at Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols, and add five classrooms, with upgrades, to both Haven and Nichols.

c) Construct a new K-5 School (2 strands, meaning 2 classes per grade level), and add eight classrooms, with upgrades to both Haven and Nichols.

d) Construct a new K-5 School (3 strands) and add eight classrooms, with upgrades at Haven and Nichols.

e) Construct a new 6-8 School (6 strands).

On Nov. 21, the Board took establishing a new 6-8 school off the table. Jerome Summers said a middle school did not address the social justice issue as far as the community was concerned, because it did not address the elementary grades, the grades at which a school community is built. Tracy Quattrocki added that it would require redistricting parts of Dewey and Walker schools into the new middle-school-feeder system. 

Board members took establishing a new K-8 school off the table at an earlier meeting on Nov. 14, because it was more expensive to go that route than to establish a new K-5 school and make the additions and upgrades to Haven and Nichols.  See article in the RoundTable’s online site for the Board’s discussion at that meeting.

Characteristics of the New K-5 School

Dr. Murphy said he was proposing that the K-5 school have a defined attendance area consisting of the central core plus a portion of the area to the west and south of Evanston Township High School. He said students in the attendance area would be assigned to the new school, but that they could opt out of attending the new school and instead attend the school they were currently attending.

When asked if the right to opt out would apply to all households, including households that did not currently have students in the District, Dr. Murphy said his preference would be that a household new to the District would not have a right to opt out of attending the new school.

A lengthy discussion followed.

Enrollment/Choice

Data provided to the District’s New School Committee reflects that last year about 550 K-5 students, including those who attend the magnet schools, resided in the attendance area proposed by Dr. Murphy. About 100 of those students attended magnet schools.

As proposed, the demographics of the new school would likely be 93% minority (63% African American and 30% Hispanic) and 88% low-income.

A K-5 school with two strands could accommodate 275 students; a K-5 school with three strands could accommodate 415 students.

According to a survey of parents in the proposed attendance area, “The majority of parents feel they should have a choice as to whether to send their child to the new school.” In addition the survey report said parents feel the new school should have “more focus on ethnic and socioeconomic diversity and balance in the student population.”

Ms. Quattrocki said that the model presented by Dr. Murphy to the District’s ad hoc Academic Committee a few weeks ago was a magnet school with 60% of the slots reserved for students in the central core. A magnet school model would have preserved choice for parents and likely reduced the percentage of students at the school who were from low-income households. She asked Dr. Murphy why he was switching to a defined attendance area.

Dr. Murphy said he proposed a magnet school model because he felt it was something that would benefit a wider range of people in the community and was something that everybody in the community could support. In deciding to switch to a defined attendance area model, he said a neighborhood school was necessary for the central core. In addition, he said the District would be able to reduce the net number of classrooms needed in the District – and thus the net incremental cost of the new school – by using a defined attendance area.

He said the model he was proposing was a school that “We could operate, arguably, within the District’s current set of revenues.”

Dr. Murphy said, however, that the same cost savings could be achieved by creating an overlay district with the same boundaries as the proposed attendance area and giving parents in the overlay a choice of attending the new school or their current attendance area school.

Andy Pigozzi suggested that the Board should open-minded about making adjustments based on parental input. “We might find out that there are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, want to stay or continue to go to the school they’re currently assigned to.”

Ms. Quattrocki said, “The reason I have a bit of a problem with this is that I talked often about community input and really going out there and finding out what the families in the Fifth Ward – and  I know we have a strong representation from some families – but I don’t feel we have been thorough in polling or talking to families in the Fifth Ward.”

She acknowledged that when people see the new school it might generate “a tremendous amount of enthusiasm,” but “there might be some families who moved into that neighborhood, who moved there to go to Willard, who moved there to go to Lincolnwood, and to take away their choice just because they don’t have kids in the schools right now would not be something I would feel entirely comfortable with.

“That’s why I’m not entirely comfortable with a choice model that’s phased out.”

“I’m fine with that,” said Dr. Murphy.

Richard Rykhus added another dimension. “One of my considerations is how do we make sure students can succeed in whatever new school can be built,” he said. “One of the considerations that the research really indicates is the concentration of low-income [families]… and actually there’s a compelling article written by the RoundTable looking at making sure that we’re balancing the desire in the community to have a school there, along with not having a high concentration of low-income families, if possible. I feel like that the overlay gives us that flexibility.”

Dr. Murphy responded, “I have always maintained that there’s enough research out there that shows that even schools that are predominantly one-race in high poverty areas, there’s enough research out there that shows those students can be successful, depending on the staffing and the quality of instruction in those schools. I do understand that concern and it’s an apprehension. … Now whether that’s going to be a non-issue is one of those things that you have to trust in the decision that you make and the staff that you have to do the teaching and learning in the school.”

Mr. Rykhus said, “I just want to be clear. I’m not saying those kids are going to fail. I’m just wanting us to think about what’s going to set them up most to succeed.”

“It’s about fairness of choice,” said Ms. Bailey. She added that she thought a lot of parents would opt into the school, and that requiring parents to opt into the school would provide a way to manage enrollment if the school fills up.

Eileen Budde said she was torn between a magnet model that reserved 60% of the slots for students in the central core and that might reduce the percentage of low-income students in the school, and a neighborhood school. She posed the dilemma: “If it’s a neighborhood school, ‘How can we turn kids away because we’ve only reserved 60% of the spaces?’”

She said, “If it’s a neighborhood model, we also have to plan carefully for the community school model. I think we’re all agreeing on that.”

Mr. Summers argued that parents’ right to choose should be cut off at some point and suggested a sunset provision. Other Board members objected to a sunset provision, but suggested the issue could be evaluated after the school was in operation for a few years.

A majority of the Board reached consensus that there would be an overlay district and that all households in the overlay would have a choice.

Two or Three Strands

Board members concurred rather quickly that the size of the school should be three strands (three classes per grade level) that would accommodate 415 students, rather than two strands that would accommodate 275 students.

Mr. Summers and Ms. Bailey said they preferred three strands in light of the number of students in the central core. Ms. Bailey added that if the Two-Way-Immersion program were established at the school (which would take up one strand), it should be three strands.

Ms. Budde added since 30% of the students in the central core were Hispanic, the District should go with three strands.

Kim Weaver said the difference in the cost of a K-5 school with three strands was only about $2 million more than a two-strand school.

Mr. Piggozi said three strands were optimal, and it made sense to build all three at once. “We’ll get better value and it will give us a lot more flexibility.”

Middle School

John Castellan, of TMP Architecture, said the District could address the space needs at Haven and Nichols while simultaneously enhancing its instructional spaces for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.

He said there were six science instructional spaces currently at both Nichols and Haven that were had an average of 743 square feet at Nichols and 928 square feet at Haven. He said the appropriate space for a science studio was 1,200 square feet, with adjacent separate space for preparation and storage.

He said that the District could convert the existing science instructional spaces to general classrooms, and that the District could build new science studios. Additional upgrades to the common areas, such as the cafeterias, would also be made to accommodate the increased enrollment.

TMP’s estimates for the work is about $9.3 million at each school. TMP also estimated the cost to upgrade the science instructional areas at Chute at $1.4 million.

Board members appeared to concur with the additions and upgrades to the middle schools.

Pinning Down the Costs

The District estimated the total construction costs of building a new K-5 school with three strands and making the improvements at Haven and Nichols at $38.8 million; total  initial costs are estimated at $0.6 million; and total net additional ongoing operating costs are estimated at between $1.3 million and $1.8 million per year.

Ms. Quattrocki asked if the District could provide an estimate of the cost to provide additional services at the new school. She said, “The discussion we had at the Academic Committee was really about more and different. And I think the expectation was that because we were going to put kids together who had higher needs that we were going to do something that would add hours to the day, days to the year.

“I would think we would want to build in those costs and know how much it will cost. We don’t want to get in a position where we’ve built the school and we don’t have enough money to run it effectively.”

Ms. Bailey said, “We want to make sure the cost is built in for the features of the school we want.” There did not appear, however, to be agreement on all the features of the educational program for the new school.

Dr. Murphy was asked to provide the base cost of the new school and the cost of additional services that the District might provide. He said that the additional services offered by a community school are typically provided and funded by a community partner.

Dr. Murphy said, “I think we can do it [establish the new school] without a significant increase in the operating budget.” He added, “I don’t believe we need to have a referendum to cover the operating expenses.”

Next Steps

The Board asked the administration to provide additional information at the next Board meeting scheduled for Dec. 5. The administration was also asked to provide information about potential referendum questions. To place a referendum on the April 2012 ballot, the Board must decide to do so by Dec. 19.

The charts above show the actual and projected student enrollment at School District 65 at the K-5 and the 6-8 grade levels for the school years indicated. “D65 Projections” were prepared by District 65 staff. “Kasarda Projections” were prepared by John D. Kasarda, a consulting demographer. Both sets of projections were prepared in November 2011.

Lora Taira, chief information officer for the District, said the projections differ because they use different methodologies. District 65 projects kindergarten enrollment using a percentage of Evanston births and then uses a straight line model for first through eighth grades, she said. Dr. Kasarda uses fertility rates, a straight line method and turnover in existing housing units.

Cost to the Taxpayer

District 65 administrators estimated the amount an average taxpayer would pay, a) if the District established a new K-5 school in the central core, and b) if it established a new K-5 school and added classrooms and made upgrades to Haven and Nichols Middle Schools:

• If a new K-5 school, with three classrooms were built, at a construction and initial cost of $20.7 million, the owner of a median valued home in Evanston ($285,000) would pay an additional $40 per year in property taxes for 20 years.

• If a new K-5 school, with three classrooms were built and classroom additions and upgrades were made to Haven and Nichols, at a total construction and initial cost of $38.1 million, the owner of a median valued home in Evanston ($285,000) would pay an additional $73 per year in property taxes for 20 years.