The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education will hold a special meeting Wednesday morning to consider new school safety and security plans, including a number of proposed new positions both in individual buildings and in the central office.
According to a memo posted on the district’s website with the 8 a.m. meeting agenda, the proposals currently on the table include partnerships with up to four different software companies to assist with emergency responses and tracking visitors in school buildings.
Terrance Little, former Assistant Superintendent of Schools, will take over the new Assistant Superintendent of Operations role.
“Because of the noticeable surge in violence across the country as well as the fact that violence in schools seems to have had a concurrent uptick, District 65 is taking more aggressive measures to protect and prepare its schools, students, staff and stakeholders for whatever comes,” the memo, written by Little and sent to Superintendent Devon Horton, stated.
Additionally, the district is proposing 16 new building concierge positions to monitor main entrances, a manager and assistant manager of prevention and special response and an assistant superintendent of operations.
District, board and process
Through phone interviews and emails over the last two weeks, the RoundTable has tried to learn more about these positions, clarify how the district will fund them as well as if and when the new jobs and partnerships were approved by the district administration or the board. But we seem to have gotten contradictory information.
The board approved the manager and assistant manager of prevention and special response during closed session at its June 13 meeting, Horton said, and the district posted those jobs on its website the next day.
In a Zoom call, Horton described those positions as security liaisons between the district and the Evanston Police Department.
The job postings show the manager of prevention and special response will receive an annual salary between $85,000 and $112,000 and offer “direct daily safety measures for the Superintendent and the Board of Education members.” The assistant manager of prevention and special response will carry out the same duties while reporting to the manager, and the position will cost the board between $65,000 to $86,000 a year, according to the postings.
According to Horton, the board discussed these roles in closed session because all district decisions related to personnel are conducted behind closed doors and then approved under the consent agenda portion of the public meeting. That process “is how all HR [Human Resources] hires, leaves, termination and new positions are reviewed,” he said.
Yet, the Illinois Open Meetings Act is fairly clear that personnel issues are only discussed behind closed doors when there is a person already in a job, not when the discussion involves funding a new position and approving a job description.
Section 2(c)(1) of the act states that public bodies, including school boards, may only enter closed session when discussing “[t]he appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees, … or legal counsel for the public body[.]”
According to Kara Kienzler, the Associate Executive Director of Communications for the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Attorney General has previously ruled that Section 2(c)(1) “applies to discussions concerning specific employees and requires a public body to discuss categories of employees in open session.”
In a phone interview with the RoundTable, board member and Finance Committee Chair Joey Hailpern said he was not present at the June 13 meeting, and he did not recall discussing or approving these security positions in either open or closed session. He did remember first hearing about the special response and concierge roles during a finance committee meeting though.
“We have seen job descriptions that have come through the board packet as we discuss whether roles need to be shifted under the personnel closed session guidelines, but we haven’t voted on posting positions in closed session,” Hailpern said.
The board typically approves the overall personnel budget and final hires. But, he said, it does not vote on every position or position description. He said he plans to ask more about these positions and where the money will come from for them at the meeting Wednesday, July 13.
In an email to the RoundTable, Horton said that adding these positions is “overall cost-neutral” because the district expects to save over $1 million annually by bringing its substitute staffing in-house, rather than paying a separate company to provide substitute teachers.
In 2019, when the district decided to outsource its substitute teachers through an education staffing and recruiting company called ESS, former Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Beatrice Davis said the switch would be cost-neutral because the cost of training and onboarding substitutes would be offset by contracting ESS.
Additionally, Horton said the district would save a significant amount of money by reducing his personal security detail. After reporting a barrage of racist emails and voicemails sent to him over a year ago, Horton began receiving armed “executive protection” from private security guards through Skokie-based Phoenix Security, which cost the district between $45,000 and $50,000 a month, according to invoices obtained by the RoundTable through Freedom of Information Act requests.
When the RoundTable asked District 65 and the Evanston Police Department for the process of how the threat was assessed or what was done to evaluate a need for private security for board members or district administrators, neither agency had any written records responsive to the request.
The new positions and security program partnerships that the district is exploring are designed to improve school climate, culture and safety so that teachers can focus on educating and students can focus on learning, Hailpern said.
“That’s what it’s about for me, is culture and climate and trust,” Hailpern said. “And I think we have definitely seen over the years that there’s a breakdown in communication, there’s a breakdown in trust, and we need that to be built back within the school communities, but also within the district as a whole.”
Looking at the increased (I would say top heavy) administration that the District 65 Board has approved, including hiring a principal for a school that won’t be built for at least two years, and as the Superintendent has announced closing schools, which already have principals, in addition to the bodyguards for the Superintendent at a cost of more than $300,000, and consultant fees they have signed onto (including an initial outlay of $400,000 to a KY firm to redraw Evanston School boundaries), and now more administrators for “security” expenses discussed behind closed doors (maybe in violation of the Open Meetings Act), I think the District 65 School Board has acted in a financially irresponsible manner contrary to the best interest of our school district and our community. Our teaching staff and the principals who have been our educational leaders, some for many years, continue to leave in great numbers, most recently both the principal and assistant principal at Lincoln School left for jobs in other districts. Our student population has dropped by more than 25%, and continues to drop as parents vote with their feet. Private and parochial schools in Evanston have waiting lists. And I worry our district may well be on the road to bankruptcy, as the Superintendent continues to spend money hand over fist, seemingly with only a rubber stamp Board applying no oversight.
There must be something our community can do to save what used to be a lighthouse district from irreparable ruin. I hope so.
New administrator positions are created so that other administrators have less responsibility and less accountability. This what is happening here. The school board has given up its responsibilities to oversee District 65 It is possible to compare our school district with similar school districts to see how top heavy with administrators we are. These new positions don’t “free up “ teachers. They just create more expensive bureaucracies
The entirely disingenuous comments of Mr. Hailpern should not continue to be borne by the Evanston community. As a teacher at Haven this past year, I had multiple email exchanges with Mr. Hailpern concerning climate, culture, safety, and trust. When I asked to meet with him in person, he initially accepted and then rescinded saying, “It’s not about opposition as much as it is about process.“ Refusal to meet, from Mr. Hailpern and multiple other board members seemed to relate to the fact that I am not an Evanston resident or parent and/or a perceived breech in protocol that would make administration feel uncomfortable.
Thus, I connected Mr. Hailpern with multiple Haven educators who are both residents and parents, so that he could converse with them. Silence. No response. No acceptance. No refusal. He simply ignored the request. There is email evidence of everything I am saying that I would be happy to show anyone.
Mr. Hailpern is right in the money (maybe not so much the money, though) to say that there is a breakdown in trust and communication. He has played an important role in creating that breakdown. To suggest that it is something that he is interested in fixing when he refuses to talk to educators who teach in our schools is either infuriating or laughable, depending on one’s mood.
This board has ZERO idea what is actually happening in our schools, but please don’t say that educators have not tried to tell them. We have. They don’t want to hear it.