An estimated 250 people packed the Board's meeting room on May 21.

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An estimated 250 persons packed the School Board’s meeting room on May 21, with some spilling into the hallway. Before the meeting began, about 150 teachers gathered in the lobby outside the meeting room to greet Board members and administrators as they entered the room.

Jean Luft, president of the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union), said teachers had gathered as a sign of support for DEC’s leadership in the ongoing contract negotiations and in support of fine arts teachers, physical education teachers, and middle school teachers, all of whom are being asked to increase the number of class periods they teach, Ms. Luft said.

The meeting was preceded by two-hours of public comment by about 35 persons, the vast majority of whom protested the proposed cuts of 3.5 fine arts teachers and 2.5 physical education teachers.

Many Oakton and Dawes parents continued to urge the Board to keep the fine arts programs at their schools intact. They said art and music are essential to educate the whole child and are invaluable in engaging many students, particularly students from low-income households, in school. Oakton parents added that the fine arts teachers at their school have been instrumental in building community at Oakton.

Teachers who spoke at the meeting provided a similar message, but in addition raised questions about teacher workloads and the teacher evaluation system that is being negotiated.

Ms. Luft said teachers have been given “ever-gchanging and confusing messages.” She said middle school teachers and K-5 fine arts and PE teachers were initially told they would be teaching additional classes next year “not for budget reasons, but for equity reasons.” She said later teachers were told the workload increase was for “financial reasons.”

Ms. Luft said teachers were also given “mixed messages on the teacher evaluation system.” She said in April, teachers were told the teacher appraisal system received rave reviews at a national school board conference, and now teachers are being told “the system was not working and needed an immediate, major overhaul.”

She said, “We need reasonable workloads, adequate planning time, clear and accurate communications, and a positive work environment with a stable and consistent evaluation system.”

During the public comment session, several other teachers addressed the teacher appraisal system, which is apparently a topic in the contract negotiations. Ms. Luft told the RoundTable, “Efforts to change the [teacher] appraisal system are a major concern of all teachers.” Paula Zelinski told the RoundTable, “We’re concerned the administration has a one-dimensional view of student growth.”

After the public comment section, School Board President Katie Bailey said, “We are deeply concerned about doing what is in the best interests of kids and our community, both now and in the future.” She said, “In these profoundly difficult economic times,” the Board has worked with administrators who have proposed a number of strategies to reduce the projected deficits.

Last fall, the District was projecting a defict of $3.3 million next year and $8.8 million four years later.

“Large deficits and the cuts they demand can destabilize a school district,” said Ms. Bailey. “Our budget management strategies are designed to have a multi-year impact. This long-term view allows us to project balanced budgets over the next three years.”

“By working with the budget management strategies,” Ms. Bailey said, “we are avoiding the massive layoffs that some District’s have faced. We successfully limited the number of reductions in force. We issued 11 notices and nearly all of those employees have been rehired during the natural turnover of employees leaving for a variety of reasons. We achieved these results despite the difficult economic times.”

Addressing the comments many parents made about the proposed changes to the fine arts and physical education programs, Ms. Bailey said, “We understand the concerns expressed and we agree that some of the planned changes in the delivery of instruction may not be ideal, but we believe our approach is better than having large class sizes and fewer teachers or eliminating a program.”

As to the teacher appraisal system, Ms. Bailey said, “State law requires us to now use a four-tiered rating system … with student growth as one component. We believe the new Performance Evaluation Reform Act, the state requirement, provides minimal standards for students. In District 65, we’ve never been about minimal standards. We know that our teachers and students are capable of more than minimal standards.

“We believe our Board goals in particular our college and career readiness goal, sets us apart from other districts, on the leading edge to improving achievement for all.”

See the link below for an article about DEC’s membership authorizing its leadership to take steps necessary for a strike.

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...