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. 15, by Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial and Operational Officer, and Kathy Zalewski, Business Manager. The report was prepared in collaboration with the District’s financial advisor, Afton Partners.

Mr. Obafemi prefaced the presentation, saying every school district in the State must provide a site-based expenditure report under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The intent is to create “a level of transparency to ensure that resources actually flow to our students who need it the most,” he said.

“The main premise of ESSA is equity and a belief that students with the greatest needs deserve the greatest share of our public education resources,” said Mr. Obafemi and Ms. Zalewski, in a memo to the Board. “As a result, financial resources are distributed equitably, not equally.”

“The District spends more dollars per pupil at schools which serve a higher number of students with higher needs,” said Ms. Zalewski. “And it’s done by design.”

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

Expenditures for K-5, Middle and Magnet Schools

The report contained charts and tables showing expenditures by school. The chart above, prepared using data in the report, shows the allocation of expenses at each of the District’s elementary, middle and magnet schools. The expenses for each school contain the total of “site level” expenses (e.g., the cost of teachers and administrators at the school and other expenses directly traceable to the school), and an allocation of central office expenses (e.g., the allocable share of administrators at the central office, and transportation costs). 

The chart shows there is a wide variance in the amount of expenditures. At the high end, the per pupil expenditures were $18,498 at King Arts magnet school. At the low end, they were $13,903 at Lincolnwood Elementary School, a difference of $4,595.

The average expenditure per pupil for the 15 schools shown on the chart is $16,372.

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, English language learners (ELL students), or low-income students (those qualifying for free- or reduced-fee lunch);

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 (TWI) Program or the African American Centered (ACC) 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;

Fifth, schools that have higher federal and state grants (e.g., including Title I grants) have higher expenditures because the grants often follow the students.

Drawing on these reasons, Ms. Zalewsk gave a short explanation why expenditures were higher at the five schools with the highest expenditures:

  • 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 percentage of special education students – 15%, compared to the District average of 13%.
  • Bessie Rhodes is the smallest school in the District with 273 students, which means it has a higher administrative cost per pupil than larger schools. It has special programing (TWI and a magnet school), and its student population is 45% low-income, compared to the District average of 38%.
  • Oakton Elementary School has the highest level of low-income students in the District – 60%. In addition, 33% are ELL, and 17% are in special education. It also has the ACC program that has small class sizes that increase the cost.
  • Dawes Elementary School has virtually identical demographics as Oakton, with 59% low income, 33% are ELL, and 17% are in special education.
  • Chute Middles School is the smallest middle school with 647 students, and its students have the highest needs among the middle schools, with 55% low income, 14%ELL, and 14% in special education.

The remaining 10 schools have expenditures of between $13,903 and $15,229. The four schools with the lowest expenditures – Lincolnwood, Kingsley, Willard and Haven – are all in northwest Evanston.

Ms. Zalewski said at Kingsley Elementary School, 31% of the students are low income, 2% are ELL, and 10% are in special education. At Lincolnwood Elementary School, 28% are low income, 2% are ELL, and 7% are in special education.

Mr. Obafemi discussed a chart showing that the per pupil expenditures last school year at Rice Children’s Center were $72,652; the per pupil expenditures for educating children with special needs out of the District were $48,245, and the per pupil expenditures at the District’s Early Childhood Center were $21,848.

Mr. Obafemi said, “In our District, we spend a lot of time working on equity, and making sure that we just don’t talk about equity in theory.” He said the report shows that “the neediest population of students are assigned the most resources. And that’s the way it should be.”

 He added that as administrators develop the District’s budget going forward, “We will make sure that we use an equity lens in the way we assign resources and that resources follow the needs of the neediest students.”

Board Comments

Finance Committee Chair Joey Hailpern thanked Mr. Obafemi and Ms. Zalewski for the presentation. He said the Board could use the data in analyzing the District’s budget and that it would assist in applying an equity lens to the conversation.

Board President Anya Tanyavutti said, “I appreciate the attention to the detail of what this report has expressed as our vision for supporting equity in our District, and giving attention to our learners where it’s needed.”

Mr. Obafemi said after the District presented its ESSA report last year to the Illinois State Board of Education, ISBE asked the District if they could use the District’s report  as a model for other school districts in the State.





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...