Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

Last school year, School District 65 spent significantly more at schools where students had relatively greater needs, according to a report presented to the Finance Committee of the District 65 School Board on Sept. 9, by Kathy Zalewski, Business Manager of the District.

Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial and Operational Officer, prefaced the presentation, saying every school district in the State must provide a site-based expenditure report under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). “It’s to bring funding into the open and to show there’s equity of funding and to show that students are funded based on their needs.”

Mr. Obafemi said children who need special education services and children who are English Language Learners need more resources and funding to meet their needs. 

“In looking at our expenditures,” Mr. Obafemi said, “We are where we actually need to be. We are providing funding to kids based on their needs.”

Ms. Zalewski said, “The goal of this report is to provide transparency and also allow the District to have a meaningful conversation about equity and about achievement.”

She said in a memo to the Board, “The main premise of ESSA is equity and a belief that the students with the greatest needs deserve the greatest share of our public education resources. As a result, financial resources are distributed equitably, but not equally; students and schools with greater needs are receiving a bigger share of public funding.

“Since student population varies from school to school and schools have different populations of students with special needs, English learners or low income, per student spending will naturally vary.”

Expenditures for K-5, Middle and Magnet Schools

Ms. Zalewski presented charts showing expenditures by school, and one is reproduced below. The chart below shows the allocation of expenses in each of the District’s elementary, middle and magnet schools. The blue portion of each bar on the chart shows “site level” expenses (e.g., the cost of teachers and administrators at the school); the gray portion of each bar is the amount of expenses allocated from the central office (e.g., the allocable share of administrators at the central office). 

The chart shows there is a wide variance in the amount of expenditures. The per pupil expenditures were $17,985 at Oakton Elementary School; they were $12,509 at Lincolnwood Elementary School The average expenditure per pupil for the 15 schools shown on the chart is $14,462.

Ms. Zalewski said the expenditures shown on the chart do not include debt payments, capital building expenses, and pre-K community services, such as childcare services.

Ms. Zalewski gave five reasons for the differences in expenditures at the District’s schools.

First, she said, some schools have more special education students, ELL students, or low-income students;

Second, schools with a lower total enrollment have higher per pupil costs for fixed positions at the schools, such as the principal, assistant principal, and office staff;

Third, some schools have special programming such as the Two-Way Immersion Program or the African American Centered curriculum program;

Fourth, schools with more experienced teachers have higher costs because the salary for more experienced teachers is higher than new or less experienced teachers. Ms. Zalewski said the difference between the schools with the highest and the lowest median teacher salaries is about $20,000.

Fifth, schools that have higher federal and state grants (e.g., including Title I grants) have higher expenditures.

Drawing on these reasons, Ms. Zalewski’s report gives a short explanation why expenditures were higher at the five schools with the highest expenditures:

  • Oakton has a high proportion of special needs students and ELL students; it has the ACC program; class sizes are low for the ACC program and are relatively low for the general education classes; and it has a low overall student enrollment
  • Bessie Rhodes has the lowest overall student enrollment in the District; it is a magnet K-8 school; and is an all TWI school
  • King Arts is a K-8 magnet school; it has a small departmentalized middle school model, which is more expensive; and it has a relatively high number of special education students
  • Chute is the smallest middle school, and has the highest student need population among the middle schools
  • Dawes has the highest proportion of ELL and special needs students in the District.

Ms. Zalewski said the five schools that have the lowest student expenditures –Lincolnwood, Kingsley, Willard, Haven, and Nichols – serve lower proportions of ELL or special needs students and/or have a lower proportion of low-income students than the District average.

She added that Haven and Nichols have a higher number of students and so a lower allocation of costs per pupil for administrative and other non-teaching staff at the school.

“This is how this [chart] should be looking,” said Ms. Zalewski. “Our schools differ in size; they differ in student needs; they differ in programming – that actually explains the variance.”

“The whole idea of this is to make sure we were equitable in the way we’re funding kids, which means not every child gets the same amount of funding,” said Mr. Obafemi. “What is required is whatever they need to be educated; we provide the resources to make sure the child is well educated. We are actually doing that in the District.”

Board Comments

Board member Candance Chow said she understood how the number of special needs and ELL students in a school could impact funding. She asked, though, how income status and race were taken into account.

She said the thing that jumped out for her was that the schools that have the lowest per-pupil expenditures (i.e., Lincolnwood, Kingsley, Willard, and Haven) are the ones that serve students from the 5th Ward. She asked how funds are being allocated to address the needs of those students. She said from what she could see, the District was not providing resources to address the needs of those students.

Assistant Superintendent Stacy Beardsley responded that when administrators allocate reading specialists and supports to the schools, they look at the number of students who need supports and look at the number of low-income students and student performance in determining how to allocate staff.

Ms. Chow said, “My observation would still hold, I think, because there’s some masking of the need in those schools and Haven Middle School.

“Those are the schools where we are spending the least per pupil, when clearly there are a lot of kids in those schools that need additional resources.”

Board President Suni Kartha said, “We do have a focus on racial equity in our District. I think it would be instructive for us to see, in addition to the population of special education children and ELL, if we could see race demographics and how that aligns to per student funding.”

Referring to the difference in the median teacher salary at the schools, Ms. Kartha asked, “Is there any process to make sure there’s a balance in our schools of veteran teachers and newer teachers, so one school doesn’t have all new teachers?”

Ms. Chow said if a principal builds an amazing culture and climate at a school and keeps teachers for a long time, “I wouldn’t want to penalize a school where that is happening.”

Ms. Kartha said that is not what she was thinking of. She said she thought Orrington was in the middle of the per pupil expenditures because it has a lot of veteran teachers.

She asked, “How are we ensuring that children who have needs are getting experienced educators – without disrupting the culture of a school?”

Finance Committee Chair Joey Hailpern closed the discussion, saying if administrators could glean more information from the data that would be responsive to Board member’s comments, the Board would be interested to hear it.

Expenditures for Other Schools and Programs

The accompanying chart does not include the per pupil expenditures of four other schools or programs: the District operates Rice School, a therapeutic day school for 32 students who have significant needs, with a per pupil cost of $64,056; it pays tuition and transportation for 68 students who have significant needs and are in outplacement therapeutic day programs, with a per pupil cost of $58,452; it operates Park School for students who have significant needs, with a per pupil cost of $66,183; and it provides general and special education Pre-K programing for 334 students ages 3-5, with a per pupil cost of $22,693.  

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...