Evanston/Skokie School District 65 has seen a precipitous decline in student enrollment over the past five years, losing more than 1,300 students since the 2018-2019 year.

The district has undertaken measures such as eliminating a net total of 25 classroom teaching positions last year through attrition and staff reassignments, which helped save money by tying the number of educators to enrollment. That represented the first reduction of any staff in the last five years because of the drop in the student population, according to Business Manager Kathy Zalewski.

And in spring 2021 the district replaced 22 reading specialists in elementary and middle schools with 18 more flexible “interventionists”; the new job title reflects that the educators can provide added support for students with high needs in math as well as literacy.

  • Actual student enrollment has fallen by more than 1,300 students since the 2018-19 school year. The student population is projected to decline by about 450 more students over the next five years.
  • The number of teachers employed by District 65 has remained mostly stagnant, while non-teaching staff has increased significantly.

During that same time, from 2018-2019 to now, District 65 has increased its administrative staff from 46 to 60 positions. Expenditures on administrator salaries and benefits rose from $7.1 million in 2018-2019 to $10.1 million for the current year, according to district documents.

In an effort to analyze these changes in staffing and budget expenditures, along with their impact on the administrative and teaching staffs, the RoundTable obtained compensation reports from the last five school years through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report for the current year is publicly available on the district website.

The district’s compensation reports define administrative staff as central office administrators, principals and assistant principals.

  • District 65 increased its spending on administrators from $7.2 million in 2018-2019 to $10.1 million this year.
  • Five years ago, the district employed 46 administrators. Today, it has 60.

There has been a nearly 18% increase in the budget for the administration this year alone, when the district added five new administrators and $1.5 million in administrative expenses. Meanwhile, spending on teacher salaries actually decreased slightly due to attrition, retirements and reassignments, going from $55.6 million last year to $55.4 million this year.

“At all levels of the organization, the demands on public education are greater than ever before. From an administrative lens, the district has been operating with a lean team for years,” Executive Director of Communications Melissa Messinger told the RoundTable in an email.

“Gaps were further exacerbated by the pandemic and the increased need for deeper levels of administrative support, a stronger focus on culture and climate, services to better meet the unique learning needs of students, an increased emphasis on safety measures and response, enhancing curriculum and interventions, and sustainability in our schools.”

Spending on teachers vs. administrators

As shown in the graphs below, the portion of the total budget going to the administration has also grown over the past five years, even as the overall budget increased in large part thanks to about $10 million in federal pandemic relief funding. Between increased investments in administrators and recent teacher cuts, administrators now receive a little more than 8% of all salaries and benefits paid to staff, up from just more than 7% five years ago.

  • Administrators now take up more than 8% of the district's spending on salaries and benefits, up from just over 7% five years ago.
  • Administrator salaries and benefits now take up more than 6.4% of the district's total budget, up from just 5.7% five years ago.

When it comes to total spending on public education in the United States, about 6.6% of all dollars have gone toward administration each year since 2000, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Among the new administrative roles added to District 65 staff recently are an executive director of communications (a new title for Messinger’s position), student services coordinator, director of professional learning, bilingual program director, a director of multi-tiered systems of support and social-emotional learning and a diverse learning coordinator. Terrance Little also moved into the new role of assistant superintendent of operations from his previous job as assistant superintendent of middle schools.

This fall, the district also hired a special assistant to the cabinet, who “reports directly to the Superintendent of Schools to ensure that the district is partnering collaboratively with schools, families and staff to enable equitable outcomes for all children,” according to an online job posting from last June.

That posting listed the salary range for the position as $70,000 to $93,000, but the actual base salary for the role, according to this year’s compensation report, is more than $140,000.

“Some of the increases in administrative costs are a result of bringing some of our administrator salaries up to par with neighboring school districts as well as scheduled pay increases per contracted salaries,” school board President Sergio Hernandez told the RoundTable in an email.

As shown below, average salaries have risen 6.9% for teachers and 5.8% for administrators in the last five years. Between last year and this year, teacher salaries went up by 1.8%, compared with administrator salaries increasing by 7.4%.

  • Average teacher salaries rose 6.8% over the past five years, while average administrator salaries increased by 5.9% in that time.
  • Overall spending on teacher salaries actually fell between last year and this year thanks to attrition and staff reassignments.

On the high end, the base salary for the chief financial and operations officer has shot up by 26% since 2018-2019, and the deputy superintendent salary has also increased by nearly 16% since the position was created in 2020. And, on the low end, pay for the assistant superintendent of human resources has actually fallen by 4% since 2018-2019.

Kevin Jauch, regional superintendent for school districts in north Cook County, told the RoundTable that when looking at the jump in administrative spending, Evanston residents should also keep in mind the additional revenues received from pandemic relief funding, as well as the increased cost of labor and insurance thanks to high inflation.

Comparison to ETHS

During those same five years, Evanston Township High School employed 20 total administrators every year, including in 2022-2023.

ETHS does have the luxury of only running one building, though, as opposed to the principals and assistant principals that District 65 has to hire for 15 different schools.

ETHS enrollment remained relatively flat throughout that time, increasing from 3,613 in 2018-2019 to 3,690 today. The teaching staff rose from 305 to 333, as shown in the graph below.

ETHS has consistently employed 20 administrators every single year, while D65 has hired 14 more administrators since 2018.
Credit: RoundTable analysis

This year, District 65 has a ratio of about 10 teachers for every administrator, while ETHS has a little more than 16 teachers for each administrator.

“While our educators are second-to-none and undoubtedly have the greatest impact on our students, they can’t do it alone,” Messinger said. “Administrators, both at the school and district level, do an incredible amount in support of our students and greatly affect the smooth operations of schools and the district overall.”

Messinger also pointed to the fact that the district continues to submit balanced budgets every year as evidence of good fiscal stewardship. Since 2018, District 65 has increased its property tax collections by more than $15 million due to inflation and new properties coming onto the tax rolls in Evanston.

“Some of our investments in administrative costs have yielded results,” Hernandez said. “For example, our creation of the Student Support Coordinator position has allowed our school district to build out our Academic Skills Centers, which provide high impact tutoring in math and literacy to students who have demonstrated a need for support in the classroom.”

“At the end of the day, as Dr. [Superintendent Devon] Horton has stated, if a school system truly believes in equity, their budget should reflect it,” Hernandez said. He pointed to the recent creation of a student support coordinator job, which helps with tutoring in the district’s Academic Skills Center, as evidence of staffing changes better reflecting a commitment to racial equity.

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. In looking at the District 65 website, there is a spreadsheet for compensation of teachers/admin and a second spreadsheet for IMRF participants. Do teachers and admin not belong to the IMRF? What is the difference between these two groups? What type of job titles do the people listed on the IMRF spreadsheet have? It seems odd that some individuals on the second worksheet have high compensation levels, car allowances, etc. but there is no indication of what duties they actually perform for the district.

    1. Hello I have answers to your questions on this

      – Teachers do not belong to the IMRF (municipal workers union), they belong to the IL teachers union
      – Principals/Vice Principals are non-union
      – Most but not all Administrators are covered by IMRF. So like, someone working in admin doing summer school booking, for instance, is an IMRF employee.

  2. Duncan: I thought I had read another comparison that included administrator salaries in other nearby districts. It showed that our district was pretty much on par with everyone else. And we have a lot more elementary schools. What happened to that data?

  3. Enrollment down 18% over 5 yrs, test scores declining across every subject matter, no-bid contracts handed out to administrator friends who don’t fulfill their contracts and were giving out raises. When will we wake up and course correct? What are the measures of success in D65 if they aren’t strong enrollment and academic achievement?

  4. Horton is almost at the end of his 3rd academic year. The question is simple: are this town’s kids better off than they were 3 years ago?

    If your answer is no, run to the polls and vote for new voices:
    Omar Salem
    John Martin
    Ndona Mumbaya

  5. Please remember this headline when educators are negotiating a new contract with this administration next year. Remember that this “lean” administration beefed up when and if educators are asked to work harder for less. And, as always, ask yourself what research clearly indicates improves outcomes for all children. As always, teaching conditions are learning conditions.

  6. Great article, Duncan. I would like to note that Horton has far less experience than previous D65 superintendents and neighboring ones. This was his first Super job and likewise, his staff’s experience is equally fresh and in some cases, questionable as to qualifications. Very few had ever held the roles in previous jobs that they hold now. That alone plays should play a big factor in comp.

    This statement from ISBE is seriously concerning….”Kevin Jauch, regional superintendent for school districts in north Cook County, told the RoundTable that when looking at the jump in administrative spending, Evanston residents should also keep in mind the additional revenues received from pandemic relief funding, as well as the increased cost of labor and insurance thanks to high inflation.”

    ESSER funds (Federal Covid Relief to schools) have specific uses and spending lavishly on admins is not one of them. Further, ESSER money is expected to run out by next year leaving tax payers to pick up the pieces of the large increases. Not cool.

  7. What a sad state of affairs when school enrollment goes down and administrative positions, go up. At the same time scores go down and so do expected outcomes.

  8. I agree, and I am appalled at the deterioration of the Lighthouse.
    There is a School Board election on April 4th. There are three very good non incumbents running, and we need to get them all elected. We need a better Board!!
    Please vote!
    Mary Anne Wexler

  9. In regards to President Sergio Hernandez’s comment: It was primarily Dr. Horton that had the large year over year pay raise. There were not pay raises for other administrative staff. I’ve documented this on my Substack:

    Dr. Horton’s pay raise may have been contractual and scheduled but saying that administrative employees in general got inflation-adjusted raises is false. In addition, Dr. Horton added a “Chief of Staff” position, which didn’t even exist prior to this year and adds $153k a year in comp.

  10. Every once in awhile you read an article and you shake your head asking yourself “Where is the outrage?” We read article after article which talk about math scores declining, benchmarks for reading lowered, college readiness lowered, student enrollment declining etc. Then we read this article that justifies rising administrative costs as needed to promote equity Really? Why aren’t parents and taxpayers outraged by what is happening?

    1. Well Mary Alice, I for one am outraged.
      And how many extra millions did we give the district a few years ago?

    2. You should see the vitrol that John Martin, the only candidate who is bringing up these issues in the school board race, is getting from a small number of people allied with the current board (including relatives of top administrators) on his Facebook page.

      I would like to see the Roundtable systematically tackle the consultant expenditures next. What is the trend line in terms of the use of consultants?

      This especially concerning given the reporting by Tom Hayden over at foiagrass.com showing that the superintendent was spending tens of thousands of dollars of District money in consulting contracts given to his business partners from one of his many side gigs.

    3. My kids are all in private school because my wife long ago saw the train wreck that is public education in Evanston. Where’s my outrage? A fair question. The truth is we are both working as fast and as hard as we can to pay private school tuition and the failing district’s property taxes. We just don’t have time to be outraged.

      I know that we are blessed with the ability to pay this double expense whammy and I feel for those kids and parents that are trapped in bad schools and a bad system. But, I think the school situation in Evanston will soon correct itself. No institution can survive when it is failing its primary purpose. I pray I am not wrong.

        1. We are happy for you. Remember this is due to the good teachers that have remained. Your experience isn’t shared by most and the numbers prove that.

          Certainly being nominated for an award that isn’t voted on by the staff he’s in charge of is no kind of evidence to prove great leadership, right? The turnover rate is exponential there. He repeatedly lied about a “hate crime” which caused tremendous anguish for the community. He also was untruthful about a gun threat aimed at teachers. There were two staff members knocked unconscious under his watch. I could go on.

          Let’s just say he wouldn’t have my vote for a golden apple but I’m glad it’s been a smashing success for you. Cheers.

      1. I agree with Tim. I have nothing but positive comments for the Evanston public schools – both as a D65 parent (Haven) and D202 graduate (Class of 2022). My child attended a private school until sixth grade and the public school education was far superior – better teachers and more educational supports, as well as extracurricular opportunities. I have to think a lot of the reason for the test scores and the move to private schools revolves around the loss of instruction time during the pandemic, which is a nationwide trend, and not something endemic to Evanston. There are also a number of D65 educators who were nominated for Golden Apple awards, in addition to Mr. Latting.