On March 2, the five candidates running for three available spots on the District 202 School Board sat at the same table onstage in the ETHS auditorium, answering questions for many persons in the auditorium, and for others via live streaming video and post event views. The event was sponsored and moderated by The Evanston/Skokie PTA Council, ETHS Parents Engaged, and The League of Women Voters of Evanston. Below are responses to two of the questions asked of each candidate that night.
Question: With a new governor in Springfield, there may be significant changes to the way public education is funded, with respect to pensions, school funding formulas, educational mandates, and consolidation of school districts. How should District 202 prepare for potential dramatic changes in school funding obligations?
Anne Sills: “Our State constitution promises to ‘provide for an efficient system of high-quality public educational institutions and services. The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.’ As a Board member, I will continue to advocate for solutions which are fair and protect our community goal of educating all students. The conversation for school funding is not a new one. I attend meetings with lawmakers, and my knowledge of pension reform and equitable school funding is current.
“The Board receives recommendations and scenarios which reflect the value-based budget process. Any change in budgets would first be made as far away from the classroom as possible and adhere closely to the goals of the Board. I have advocated for unfunded mandate relief for years. I will support all efforts made to present policy that is not a one-size-fits-all solution for program funding. A shared service agreement now present in both Districts for student meals currently reduces costs for both Districts. I will work with other Board members to identify economies of scale as part of good fiscal governance.”
Jonathan Baum: “First I have to say that the finances of ETHS are extremely well managed. The problem is there is very little we can do to control the revenue side because of property tax caps and the ways of Springfield, so most of our focus has to be on the expenditure side. That said, we do have to fight back, we do have to lobby at the State level. I have been involved in school funding discussions where some have the idea we need to find equity between poor and rich districts. I think we ought to look at equity between rich and poor students many of whom we educate in this District. We have a Governor who put out a plan to freeze property taxes which is 80% of our money; cut income taxes, which is most of the other 20%, and increase aid to education. The math doesn’t work. Then we have the pension issue.
“We do need to lobby, but internally we have to do three things. Economize, we have to do the same for less. We’ve been doing this for years, but we’re going to have to keep doing it. Second we have to prioritize. We have to make choices. These are not choices between good and bad, but good and good. They are hard choices. Most of all, we have to evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. We can’t afford to pay for programs that don’t work. We have to look hard at every one of our programs, evaluate them thoroughly and cut the money from those that don’t work so we can invest in those that do.”
Adrian Dortch: “Being born and raised here in Evanston, I can say that money has never really been an issue in Evanston. We have great foundations. We have funds here. We find money for STEM lab projects, cradle to career. If there is an issue with getting funding, I don’t think it would be a problem to keep key programs in our budgets.”
Monique Parsons: “In my role as COO [of McGaw YMCA], I am responsible for six areas, one being our children’s center. Over 100 families receive State funding, and as of February, it might be the last time they receive that support from the State. I know this all too well. Currently I am working with staff, pulling numbers together, discussing options, talking to policy volunteers, and developing a plan, while being fiscally responsible and still meeting our mission. As a Board member, my goal would be to protect what we value most, student achievement and instruction, while being transparent to our community at the same time.
“Our Board will need to prepare by doing the following: understand the State budget; know the cuts, the funding opportunities; know the priorities and stay on top of all that; review current school priorities; allow the administration the space to go through the budget line-by-line to determine how priorities can be met; and then meet with elected officials to provide them with the information and ammunition they need to effectively advocate for our community and our schools. Finally, this is a very trying time, and we need an individual on the Board with real-time experience dealing with this government. Unfortunately but fortunately, I would bring that experience to the Board.
Mark Metz: “There is an old saying that I think applies well to this question, It says, ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.’ That is going to apply very specifically to what we face today in the legislature. And while we don’t know what those cuts are going to look like, Senate Bill 1 is still a mystery.
“We can describe a process we’re going to use called value-based budgeting. We’ve done that for a long time. The Board will have to come to consensus about what is valued most. A lot of choices will have to be made, and as it has been said, the choice will sometimes be between the good and good. The process will involve describing those values very specifically and giving it to our administration and have them do their work and present several options to debate in full public view to figure out what decisions to make. They’ll lead us along that decision tree; after all they are the experts. We need our administration to tell us how to best to accomplish our mission while honoring our values the best we can. With that work, the Board can reach those hard decisions.”
Question: What would ETHS look like in 10-15 years?
Mr. Baum: “A lot more digitized. Technology will be a major change. We had the roll out of Chromebooks this year. So certainly in 10 years, students then will be using the preferred technology at that time. I think our students will be doing even better than they are today. I have to go back to the partnership with District 65. Our long-term achievement goal is a 12-year goal. Here’s where we want them to be in 12th grade; this is where they need to be in kindergarten. Next year’s kindergartners will be in 12th grade then. They will be the beneficiaries of this new, dynamic, intensive relationship between the two Districts, and I think you will see a great dividend from those efforts.”
Mr. Dortch: “In 10 or 15 years, I would like to see District 65 and District 202 consolidate. I would like to see it be K-12. I believe it should be a seamless education. As in other communities, all schools are different depending on constituents in the community so a seamless education within District 65 needs to happen first. Then Districts 65 and 202 should consolidate.”
Ms. Parsons: “I see the achievement gap being gone because of the collaborations we’ll have in the community. I see more parents being more engaged. I see every student being college- and career- ready when they walk across the stage at graduation. I see Evanston being a better community because those things have happened.”
Mr. Metz: “I know what I want it to look like. I want ETHS to be a model for big, diverse high schools. Educators from around the country are now coming to see what we are doing to get so much out of our students. I want it to be a place the kids own – where they feel a passion about being here. I want it to be a place where every student can reach his or her highest potential. I want there to be a culture where peer pressure is about high expectations and high achievement. I want it to be a place where when kids leave here, they are more prepared than their peers at other schools and get those coveted positions in jobs, colleges, programs because they are more prepared than others.”
Ms. Sills: “I see more diplomas, more graduates, more AP learners, more career successes, more teachers who learned here coming back to teach, more students talking about their positive experiences in the school and encouraging all young learners to be excited about coming through the doors.”