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A little over 10 years ago, the Evanston RoundTable published a lengthy editorial supporting a referendum to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward. We wrote that editorial. After providing background information on District 65’s desegregation plan that was implemented in 1967, and the closing of Foster School in 1979, the editorial said:

Foster School, circa 1905. The school in Evanston’s Fifth Ward was closed in 1979. (Shorefront Legacy Center)

“We think the District should restore a school to the central core. A neighborhood school will substantially reduce involuntary busing. It will foster parental involvement and student engagement in learning. It will provide an opportunity to develop an education model and a pipeline of services to ensure that all children enter kindergarten ready to learn and enter middle school on track to college and career readiness.

“By taking this stand, we do not in any way question the decision to desegregate the District’s schools. That was an important decision for this community. We, as do many Evanstonians, continue to value diversity in our schools. Forty-five years later, though, it is hard to justify busing hundreds of African American and Hispanic students from their neighborhood to Evanston’s north-end schools in order to diversify those schools, if their parents would prefer to send them to a school in their own neighborhood.

“Our support for the new school is predicated on the Board’s decision that all parents in the central core will have a choice to send their children to the new school or to the current attendance-area school. This is crucial to our support of the school.”

We continue to support establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward, for the reasons stated in that editorial.

We continue to believe, though, that the Black and Latinx children in the Fifth Ward should have a choice to attend the new Fifth Ward school or to attend their current attendance area school. We believe that giving Black and Latinx households a choice is required by Brown v. Board of Education so that School District 65, a governmental public body, is not forcing Black and Latinx students to attend a segregated school. For purposes of determining whether the new school is a segregated school, the combined percentages of Black and Latinx students should be considered. (Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado.)

District administrators have said that households in the Fifth Ward would have a choice to attend the new school or to attend the school they are currently attending, but that choice is not incorporated into the proposed resolution that the School Board is being asked to approve tonight, March 14. That choice should be spelled out clearly in the board resolution that adopts the new attendance areas and that approves a new school in the Fifth Ward, and that choice should apply to both current and future residents in the Fifth Ward.

The possibility of gentrification

District 65 administrators and school board members recently expressed concern that the new TIF district established in the Fifth Ward by the City of Evanston would drive up home values and property taxes, drive Black households out of the Fifth Ward and gentrify the area.

Henry Wilkins, who has formed an organization and worked for several years to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward, has expressed concern that if a new school were established in the Fifth Ward, it might contribute to the gentrification of the ward and not benefit the Black households it is intended to benefit.

Despite these concerns, District 65 has not presented an analysis on whether a new school in the Fifth Ward would spur gentrification of the area. Bluntly, will a new school attract newcomers to the Fifth Ward, drive up housing values and property taxes, and drive many existing Black and Latinx homeowners out of the ward?

Doesn’t equity require that this type of analysis be conducted? And should the analysis also include the impact of the new TIF on current residents in the Fifth Ward, the impact on the City’s ability to control gentrification in the ward if School District 65 pulls out substantial amounts of money from the TIF district through an intergovernmental agreement with the city, and the impact of a new school being established in the Fifth Ward? We urge the district to conduct such an analysis and determine how to address this issue.

Purchase of the new school building

The proposed lease agreement to build and lease a new school in the Fifth Ward does not provide that if District 65 pays off all the lease certificates issued to finance the construction of a new school and performs all of its other obligations under the lease agreement, that it is entitled to get title to the new school building.

The District must also satisfy one of three scenarios. The scenarios provide that if District 65 pays off all the lease certificates and performs all of its other obligations under the lease, then District 65 may purchase the new school building if “Illinois law then provides that title to the Project may be lawfully transferred to the Lessee [District 65] without the holding of a referendum or the doing of any other act by the Lessee,” or if “the Lessee is then authorized by Illinois law to take title to the Project,” or “if permitted by then applicable law.”  

So, under the lease agreement, the district’s ability to purchase the school building and to take title to the new building is subject to the status of Illinois law at the time it pays off all of its obligations under the lease agreement – some 18 years down the road.  There is no guarantee what the law will be 18 years from now. This is an added risk. Administrators should explain why these provisions are included in the lease agreement, and the risks involved.

Larry and Mary Gavin,
submitted as residents of Evanston

Link to the 2012 editorial: https://evanstonroundtable.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Editorial-supporting-fifth-ward-school-2.16.12-1.pdf

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...

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...

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  1. Thank you Mary and Larry for your thoughtful article and important questions. I hope that our community is listening.

  2. I am wondering if children attending schools outside of the 5th ward should also be given the choice to not attend a segregated school?
    Does Brown v. Board of Education require the same choice of not forcing non-Black /Latinx children to attend a segregated school?
    I have not researched…just questions that come to mind.