Rafael Obafemi and Kathy Zaleweski presented the report to District 65’s Finance Committee on Sept. 20. (RoundTable photo)

School District 65 last school year spent significantly more at schools where students had relatively greater needs, according to a report presented to the Finance Committee of the District 65 Finance Committee on Sept. 20. The report, presented by Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial and Operational Officer, and Kathy Zalewski, Business Manager, was prepared in collaboration with the District’s financial advisor, Afton Partners.

In a memo to the Board, Obafemi and Zalewski said, “Since student population varies from school to school and schools have different populations of students with special needs, English Language Learners or low wealth, per student spending will naturally vary.”

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 goal is to make sure that funds are spent equitably, not equally. There is an assumption that depending on the need of each particular student, the resources will go to them.”

“We’ve actually done that in this District,” Obafemi said. “We provide resources to students based on their unique needs.” As an example, he said, English language learners and special education students, get more resources than general education students.

Expenditures for K-5, Middle and Magnet Schools

Zalewski presented charts and tables showing the expenditures by school. The chart below, 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 variation in the amount of per student expenditures by school. At the high end, the per student expenditures were $20,092 at King Arts magnet school. At the low end, they were $15,177 at Haven Middle School, a difference of $4,915.

The average expenditure per student for the 15 schools shown on the chart is $17,165.

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

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 student 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., Title I grants) have higher expenditures because the grants often follow the students.

Drawing on these reasons, Zalewski 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, 33%.  
  • Bessie Rhodes is the smallest school in the District with 265 students, which means it has a higher administrative cost per student than larger schools. It has special programing (TWI and a magnet school), and it has the third highest percentage of students from low-income households in the District, 52%.
  • Oakton Elementary School has the highest percentage of low-income students in the District, 57%. In addition, 22% of its students are ELL, and 12% are in special education. It also has an ACC program that has small class sizes that increase the cost.
  • Dawes Elementary School has the highest percentage of ELL students, the third highest percentage of special education students and the fourth highest percentage of students from low-income households.
  • Chute Middle School is the smallest middle school, and its students have the highest needs among the middle schools, with 48% from low-income households, and a relatively high percentage of ELL and special education students.    

The three schools with the lowest expenditures – Haven, Willard and Lincolnwood – are the three schools in northwest Evanston. Zalewski said Willard and Lincolnwood have the lowest percentage of ELL students and special education students. Haven Middle School has only 27% low-income students, she said. These three schools have an average per student expenditure of $15,452.

The expenditures for students attending Rice Child and Family Center, for students placed in schools outside the District for special education services and for students attending the District’s early childhood center are much higher. A chart shows that the per student expenses at Rice were $88,674; the average expenses for students placed out of the District were $47,893; and the expenses for students at the District’s early childhood center were $30,098.  

“I look forward to providing this report every year, because it goes directly to the mission of this Board and this community – to ensure that we practice what we preach,” Obafemi said. “When it comes to equity, that resources flow to the families and students who need it, as opposed to resources just been distributed equally. So, we know that some of our students, when they come in, need special education services, they need to learn English, and we provide the resources to them. And that’s the way it should be.”

Obafemi said after the District presented its ESSA report several years ago to the Illinois State Board of Education, ISBE asked if it 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...