At the June 11 District 65 School Board meeting, Paul Goren, Superintendent of District 65, and members of the School Board laid out some key priorities that they would like to focus on for the coming school year. The input will be used to prepare the Board’s planning calendar for the 2017-18 school year.
Board President Suni Kartha kicked off the discussion saying that one of the things the Board needs to discuss is finances. The District is projecting that it will be able to balance it budgets through 2014-2015. But one key issue is what is happening FY’26. The District has not yet issued projections for FY’26, but the operating deficit in FY’26 could be about $12.5 million, and operating deficits in subsequent years could continue to mount if changes are not made.
“We do have referendum dollars that will sustain us for the next several years, but before we reach that crisis point again, we need to understand what are the pressure points, what are the priorities, what changes do we need to make to be stable beyond the 2015 mark,” said Ms. Kartha.
“This may inform the rest of our priority discussions,” she said.
Dr. Goren agreed that the District’s financial stability had to be on the agenda. He said, though, the District has a lot of other work underway, including that the District is working on literacy, school climate and culture, culturally relevant pedagogy, equity in terms of how it improves student outcomes and student safety.
“In many ways,” Dr. Goren said, “and I encourage you, less is more. We’ve heard that from a wide range of our colleagues. We’re doing a lot of work and what we really want to do is really focus on the work. Implementation matters. … I believe we should be paying attention to implementation.”
He said the District may have to have a “hiatus” on some things in order to focus on others.
He added that the District will be entering into negotiations with the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers’ union) in the next school year and said “that is an important process that we will look forward to and it will take a considerable amount of time.”
Dr. Goren also said that a report on attendance boundaries and bus transportation is a “big issue” that is on the table. “This is still a work in process that we will continue over the summer to address the disproportionate impact of busing on Black and Latinx students.”
As part of this process, he said the District is looking at historical information that relates to busing and desegregation, the closing of Foster School, the redistricting in the 1990s, and the referendum on a proposed Fifth Ward School.
He added that the District is doing research on how other school districts have addressed similar issues, and Northwestern students are analyzing disparities in busing.
He said changing attendance boundaries takes a considerable amount of time and is a several year process, “and quite frankly is a contentious process.”
Candance Chow suggested the Board put three things on the calendar: follow up on the early childhood education plan and align pre-K to second or third grade; analyze the curricular changes that the Board has approved in the last year, including Math 6 and 7, and math/algebra; and take a look at the District 65/District 202 Joint Literacy Goal to determine how the Districts are going to move forward with that goal.
Lindsay Cohen suggested discussing some ETHS readiness goals and developing a better understanding of how students are landing at ETHS; taking a look at the emotional well-being of students and staff, and having a monitoring system in place to create an environment where students are not being ostracized in any way, and where staff are being supported.
Rebeca Mendoza said the District should continue its equity work, and ensure the continued offering of TWI. She said the District was on the cusp of really getting into and making a solid connection between pre-K and kindergarten. She said the District should focus on the wellness of teachers and students.
Joey Hailpern said it was important to get “a respectful contract with teachers, something they feel good about and we do. I would put that above a lot things.”
He suggested taking a look at early literacy, adding that college persistence is far away from early literacy.
Ms. Kartha mentioned many other things: continuing equity work; addressing school climate; adopting a dress code; providing professional development on equity; providing space for teachers to collaborate; ensuring an effective implementation of the TWI expansion at Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies; looking at assessments for early childhood development, including social and emotional learning and kindergarten readiness; improving instruction for marginalized students; lifting up ACC, and looking at special education.
Dr. Goren said he would take the Board’s input into account and work with staff to put together a draft planning calendar for the Board to consider in August.