Neither the tornado warning nor torrential rain dampened the party atmosphere at Monday night’s Evanston Township High School (ETHS) District 202 board meeting. 

Most of the meeting was about good news, as it was Superintendent Eric Witherspoon’s last meeting before he retires on June 30. Marcus Campbell, who has served as assistant superintendent and principal since 2013, will take the role next. 

A draft presentation of the 2022-2023 budget was also presented during the last 20 minutes of the two-hour-and-40-minute meeting. 

District 65 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon greets athletes at the board meeting. Credit: @ETHSports account

There were athletic honors presented to ETHS teams and individuals this year and last, as there was never a chance to honor the 2021 athletes in person. (See more here in a separate story.) 

There were also honors for Witherspoon and personal remarks thanking him for his 16-year tenure as superintendent. One by one, these volunteers spoke movingly about how they have changed and grown as a result of working with Witherspoon, and how they have become more aware of race, privilege and inclusiveness through his leadership. 

Several spoke of the impact he has had on their own children. Witherspoon seemed genuinely moved by the heartfelt sentiments. 

Social consciousness series

There was a report and discussion on ETHS’ social consciousness series. Lauren Hamilton, an equity analyst and Campbell’s secretary, presented a year-end summary of the school’s Social Consciousness series, which revolves around four student summits – Latinx Summit, Black Summit, LGBTQ+ Summit and Middle East, North African and Asian Summit. ETHS also organized its first Abilities Awareness Week this academic year.

The summits “prioritize open discussion regarding identity and the implications of social constructions as it relates to race, gender, and sexual orientation,” according to the material distributed for the meeting. 

Budget review

Mary Rodino, Chief Financial Officer for District 202, presented an overview of the tentative budget for fiscal year 2023. The board was asked to approve the start the budget process, which they did unanimously.

From here, the budget will be worked on over the summer, reviewed by the public and be slated for passage in September.

Based on the executive summary: 

  • The total FY 2023 budget is $99.2 million which is 3.5% more than last year’s budget. 
  • The operating budget is $88.3 million, 3.2% more than the FY 2022 operating budget.
  • This budget includes $1.66 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Grant funds and is the result of conservative budgeting and deliberate containment of personnel costs, most of which are determined by contractual obligations.
  • This year’s budget includes a $900,000 planned transfer to the Capital Improvements Fund for infrastructure improvements.
  • The budget proposes increasing school parking fees in 2022-23 from $300 to $400 with allowances for students who receive free or reduced lunch.

CFO Rodino warned that they’ve been told that payment of property taxes will be late this year, perhaps as much as six months. She said short-term loan sources are available if need be, and she is not worried, but her office is always anticipating options.

Either July 28 or Aug. 4 ETHS will publish the budget hearing notice for public comment and the final budget hearing will take place on Sept. 12. Property tax information will be updated by that point and revenues can be adjusted accordingly, said Rodino.

The timing is crucial: Illinois schools must finalize their budgets by the last day of their first fiscal quarter, which for ETHS is Sept. 30. Another reason to wait for a September approval stems from when the tax levies in Cook County are finalized. Property taxes fund 85% of the district’s budget and the tax levies are finalized in August. It makes sense to approve a budget based on actual anticipated revenue.

Rodino also cautioned how the effects of the pandemic are affecting the budget process. In a memo issued June 9 she described the situation as “more fluid than usual this year” as she and her team try to estimate revenues and expenses. The Tentative Budget includes $284,500 of federal relief aid in the Education Fund, and $1.38 million of federal relief aid in the Capital Fund. The total aid package of $3.7 million will be spent over two years. 

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...