Representatives of School District 65 and Evanston Township High School (ETHS) met June 7 to discuss fiscal projections, budgeting strategies, and student enrollment for Park School’s 2016-17 school year. The school, which services students with mild to severe cognitive and physical disabilities, will take a financial hit with the loss of three out-of-district students, though it was clarified that there would be “no major adjustments” for fiscal year 2016.
Over the past year, there were concerns within the Evanston community that ETHS was considering terminating their agreement with District 65 to operate the school.
ETHS Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon said at the June 7 meeting there were two different issues on the table: 1) finding ways to enhance the decreased revenue and 2) making expenditures work with the revenue. Solving these issues is crucial in solving the high school’s relationship with Park because “otherwise I would never have a balanced budget,” said Dr. Witherspoon.
The main solution discussed to augment the revenue was to come up with various marketing strategies to promote the school. Richard Rykhus, Vice President of the District 65 Board said, “We need to come up with a very accelerated plan – a low-effort and low-cost way to attract families like those at Park. We see that there are at least some districts that are willing to pay.”
Park School Principal Dr. Marlene Grossman said Dana Callow, a parent of a Park student and head of a marketing firm, was willing to help update the school website and brochure pro bono to help draw interest to the school. “[The website] has to be ramped up,” said Dr. Grossman. “We need to put together presentations to bring out and about… Let them know that we’re here.”
Next year’s Park PTA President, Anna Guillemin, also said that the marketing strategy should be “multi-pronged” and should speak to a number of groups. However, the Board decided that it would be vital to focus a large portion of the marketing towards parents of 3-year-old children. Park School has a rolling admissions policy.
Two types of marketing strategies the Board discussed implementing were “realistic, feasible pick-up-the-phone marketing” and marketing through an improved school website and brochure.
District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum said it would be more effective to market to the individual districts rather than to the parents of out-of-district students, since the students’ residential districts are responsible for paying the out-of-district tuition of $66,000 per student.
“It is complicated to return kids when they are interested in the school they’re currently in. Right now, we don’t see any additional students we can bring back,” said Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services for District 65.
Pediatricians can also recommend Park to their young patients if they feel the curriculum is appropriate for their needs. “We need to get out to medical and therapy fields,” said Park Physical Therapist Katie Spero in discussing different groups to target their marketing towards.
After discussions of budget and student enrollment had concluded, the Board went over other concerns within the districts. District 65 board member Jennifer Phillips said that parents of Park students had complaints about the school’s playground and urged the Board to add possible renovations to their capital funds list. Park’s Adaptive PE Teacher Heather Shaffer said that, after consulting with a playground architect, the estimates are that such renovations would cost $60-70,000. She said that the project could be completed with fundraising assistance from the PTA. Dewey School has already donated $500 for the playground in their own fundraising effort, she said.