Evanston voters will have two chances to weigh in on major issues this spring – in the Feb. 28 Primary Election and in the April 4 General Election. There is a lot packed into those elections.

On the Feb. 28 Primary Election ballot will be five candidates for Mayor and five for Fifth Ward alderman. The City has not seen such wide fields of candidates in decades.

Early voting begins in February. The first day of grace period registration and voting is Feb. 1, and the first day of early voting is Feb. 13. Before then, there is much to be done.

We encourage everyone to become familiar with both the issues facing the City, and, as applicable, the Fifth Ward, and with the people who propose ways to address them. One of the best ways to do this is face-to-face: Attend coffees, forums, and meet-and-greets.  Listen to how they frame an issue – say, economic development or affordable housing.  Watch how they react to questions posed to them at forums, and listen to whether they answer the question asked or the question hoped for. Even if you disagree with an answer, check again to see if you feel it was a sincere one.  While it is always pleasant to find a candidate who shares at least some of your views, we believe it is also important to have representatives who are willing to give the honest, principled answers – particularly to tough questions.

Read the RoundTable, in print and online, because we have asked questions, too.  Answers to sets of questions posed to each group of candidates are posted, unedited, at www. evanstonroundtable.com. Except for information about the one candidate who did not respond despite several attempts to contact him, you can find on our website information about  he candidate’s background, priorities, and views on addressing violence, economic development, affordable housing, equity, sustainability, privatizing public spaces, and dealing with Springfield. The Q & A for each candidate can be accessed by clicking on a box about one-half way down on the RoundTable’s home page, that says “Profiles of Candidates in the Feb. 28 Primary.” The Q & As are also accessible by clicking on the “Elections” navigation bar at the top and bottom of each web page.

The General Election poses even more choices, because there are candidates for both School Boards and a referendum question that need your careful attention.

The City often receives greater than the schools attention, because that is where many fundamental and concrete needs are met: infrastructure, refuse pickup, commercial affairs, public safety, and recreation.

Much of what schools provide is intangible, but it is necessary and highly visible in daily life: training in thought and habit. Further, while City Council members – the Mayor and the Aldermen – are paid a modest amount for what is to be a part-time job, School Board members receive no compensation.

We encourage voters to get to know these candidates, attend coffees and forums, listen to how they listen; watch how they react. Measure what they say against what you wish for your children, your grandchildren, your neighbor’s children.

The schools receive a greater portion of your tax dollars than does the City. About 68% of each dollar of property tax revenue goes to the two public school districts here.  Unlike the City, which can decide how much it wishes to levy each year as long as its budget is balanced, School Districts have a preset percentage, or tax cap, that limits the amount they can levy each year.

We think the most important item that will be on the ballot this spring is District 65’s referendum question, asking the voters to allow the District to increase its tax levy so it will have more to spend each year. The District has 15 schools and nearly 8,000 students.

Over the next few weeks, there will be meetings and discussions about this referendum. Since last June, District 65 officials and School Board members have been talking about mounting expenses and projected deficits. The RoundTable has written many articles on this subject. These are available on our website.

We urge you, as you consider this referendum about the future of our children, that you remember that the source of these projected deficits is not in poor money management at the local level.

The State is halfway through Year 2 Without a Budget. Legislation proposed in Springfield in the guise of “education reform” poses threats to school districts such as ours, which provide education to large numbers of students across many income levels. Poorer districts will receive more money, and richer ones may not need it. Further, the State, as everyone knows, is trying to get out of the pension business, and one proposed “solution” is to shift to local school districts part of the pension costs normally paid by the state. They propose this without counterbalancing it with any relief for the schools or any way, short of bake sales, perhaps, for them to raise additional funds.

Most dangerous of all is the threat from the federal level, should Betsy DeVos or someone similar be confirmed as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos is an outright enemy of public education.

With no state or federal protections likely in the next few months or years, it is up to local School Districts to forge their own future. We urge voters to consider these things and to listen with their hearts, with their eyes on the future of our children as well as with their checkbooks.

Inauguration Day, 2017

by Charles Wilkinson

A presidential inauguration always offers Americans a time to reflect on and be grateful for – and vocal about – the country they call home. It it also a time to restate the dreams of our Founding Fathers, and pledge allegiance to the Constitution crafted by them.

As a country, we are still too young to get it right. Don’t get me wrong. I am not about to trash the United States, its people, or its politics. We have a good thing going in this part of the world, and it keeps getting better, give or take a setback now and then. From its founding our nation has been, and continues to be, a voice of independence and freedom for other nations willing to hear and appreciate the sense of it.

Our history has no claim on being always noble or pretty. Our ongoing struggle for Civil Rights addresses and aggravates an open and oozing wound that continues to incite battles and bloodshed. Americans who believe in social justice, basic human rights, and equal opportunity for all to seek happiness realize the dream remains distant but take hope on Inauguration Day when the idealism of our country typically shines more brightly.

Usually, all the right words are spoken, pomp upstages circumstance as the transfer of power from one administration to the next honors our history and traditions. Not so this time.

The President’s remarks were a call to national narcissism. He was cheerleading his narrow vision of “America First” by offering what seemed like a campaign stump speech. There is no doubt he believes strongly in the vision that propelled him to the White House and many appreciate his shaking up the system. But I fear the world, and even Washington itself, will perceive his remarks as fighting words and unstatesmanlike. Still, I am willing to wait and see.

The protests on the day itself were unfortunate. It should be a day of celebration of our country and our ideals. America may still be too young to fulfill its dreams but is old enough to recognize that violence, like anger, never solves anything. It only complicates and works against the due process of law and the sanity of common sense.

On Inauguration Day, the power of the Presidency should give full voice to the ideals and dreams of this nation and its people, who should do the same. The months and years ahead should provide a reality check for this administration and America itself. What has been gained will not be easily lost. Our country, I believe, is already too great to let that happen.