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It is an incredible honor to serve the staff, families, and community of District 65. As longtime residents of Evanston and as parents of children in schools across the district, we know that our public school system is a special place. We have much to be proud of and to celebrate, yet we are not immune to challenges. What is most important is that we are open, honest, and work diligently to overcome the hurdles that we face, together.
As district leaders, it is our responsibility to balance the needs of our students, our dedicated educators and staff, and our community as a whole. We can all agree that the work done in our schools is of greatest importance to all stakeholders. In Evanston and Skokie, we pride ourselves on providing our children with the educational opportunities to excel in the classroom and in whatever path they ultimately choose in life. To do this, we must make sound financial decisions that will support our students and schools in the short- and long-term.
The District 65 PTA Council recently published a Guest Essay in the Evanston Roundtable requesting an update on negotiations. We are currently negotiating or about to negotiate contracts with all of our bargaining units representing colleagues who work in District 65. While we cannot share details of these negotiations out of respect to the bargaining processes, please know that all parties are working diligently to come to fair agreements. The issues we face are complex and have no easy answers. And yet, we must develop contracts that support our students, honor the hard work staff do day-in and day-out, and are financially sustainable over time.
Despite spending reductions over many years, we face increasing costs and decreasing revenues resulting in a structural deficit. Revenues are only increasing by 0.8% this year while expenditures, on average, are increasing by 3.5%. This structural deficit is something that has existed for many years, yet has not been solved. We are committed to tackling this issue head-on.
Based on our budget projections, we are facing staggering deficits:
• In the 2017-2018 school year, deficits start at $4.5 million.
• By the 2020-2021 school year, deficits will exceed $10 million.
In the 2017-2018 school year, when deficits start at $4.5 million, revenue is projected to increase by 1.1% while expenditures, under current agreements, would increase by 4.6%.
These projected deficits could become even worse given the significant uncertainty of state funding for District 65 and public school systems across Illinois.
Since the spring of 2014, when the current administration started in District 65, we have worked to reduce spending while protecting the classroom as much as possible. As a result, we were able to avert a deficit budget for this coming school year.
• In 2014-2015, we reduced spending in the district by over $1.2 million which included the reduction of administrators and reading specialists.
• The School Board, responding to a request from the superintendent, froze Dr. Goren’s salary for 2015-2016 recognizing our grim financial outlook. The Board did so while offering a one-time stipend.
• For this coming school year the superintendent asked the Board to keep his salary freeze intact and to refrain from providing any stipend.
• In addition, the superintendent is freezing the compensation of all members of his senior leadership team in the coming year with any future raises tied to the Consumer Price Index.
• For 2016-2017, we have reduced spending by $600,000 through non-personnel reductions.
• Finally, for the past two years, we have used a zero-based budgeting strategy (building a budget from $0) in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary expenses.
We can no longer make small reductions here and there to continue balancing our budget. We believe the analysis is clear. With deficits and continued uncertainty on the horizon, we must be prepared to make tough decisions. We are committed to doing everything in our power to keep reductions away from our schools and classrooms. Yet we must recognize that all of us will be affected by the looming deficits and the financial challenges District 65 is facing.
As we continue negotiations, our goal is to strike a balance that honors District 65 staff and the critical work they do to support students while directly addressing the existing structural deficit. We must remain respectful to the bargaining process and to our colleagues while keeping our community informed as decisions are made. Please know that from where we stand, there is tremendous support for our teachers, staff, and schools. We are committed to collaboration and working through the challenges we face, together.