The Evanston Township High School board approved a $105.2 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year during its meeting on Monday, Sept. 11.

That figure represents a 5.2% increase from the 2023 budget, according to Chief Financial Officer Kendra Williams. More than 80% of the district’s revenue comes from local property taxes, which are up by a maximum of 5.5% because of record-high inflation rates in 2021 and 2022. Teacher and staff salaries are also increasing by nearly 5.5% because of inflation.

Williams touted how the district’s strategy of “values-based budgeting” has resulted in increased investments in areas that the administration and board have identified as vital to meet student needs. For example, the new budget includes a restorative practices coordinator, a director of residency and truancy and more funding for mental health programs and the multilingual services department. ETHS is also expanding its job training program and building a health science center with donations from the ETHS Foundation.

CFO Kendra Williams presents the ETHS 2024 fiscal year budget to the school board on Monday, Sept. 11. Credit: ETHS YouTube

“The budget – it’s a lot of information, but it tells a story, because we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Williams said. “We’ve heard about it, and we’ve talked about it – the mental health needs, trauma, school refusal, truancy, residency, social emotional learning, English learners, the school-to-prison pipeline. We know that our students here are affected by all of these things.”

All the board members and District 202 Superintendent Marcus Campbell said they were excited about this budget and the new investments and positions it includes, but one small line item was a sticking point for board member Gretchen Livingston. For years, ETHS has contributed $50,000 annually to Evanston Cradle to Career (ECTC), an organization created for the purpose of uniting social service organizations around town to create a more equitable future for all Evanstonians. Livingston, who has represented ETHS in Cradle to Career meetings, said while she supports the organization’s mission, she hasn’t seen any clear direction for it.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and energy around trying to support the effort. I don’t disagree with what I think the goals of that group are, but over the last year or two, I have absolutely no idea what we’ve done to advance those goals. And there appears to be no accountability mechanism in place,” Livingston said. “We’ve had some changeover in the executive director and leadership, and I was willing for a year or two to wait that out and see how it goes. But $50,000 is a lot of money. For many people, that’s a year’s salary, and we could get a lot done with that money, I think, directly.”

Livingston ultimately suggested pulling that $50,000 line item from the budget for the time being, which the rest of the board agreed to do, while passing the rest of the proposed budget. Cradle to Career partners are scheduled to meet for their quarterly meeting next week, she said, and the agenda does not suggest any change of course or more serious discussion of the organization’s goals.

“Instead, we’re just going to spend a few hours talking about a lot of activities in and around Evanston,” she said. “There’s no discussion of our goals, how we’re measuring our progress toward those goals, what change and focus it’s going to take to achieve them.”

ETHS board member Gretchen Livingston brought up concerns about continuing to contribute $50,000 a year to Cradle to Career. Credit: ETHS YouTube

Aside from voting to remove the contribution from the budget for the time being, most other board members did not directly address Livingston’s comments. But board Vice President Monique Parsons, who has worked with Cradle to Career through her position as the president and CEO of the McGaw YMCA, said that Livingston is “not alone.”

If more nonprofits and community organizations in Evanston are willing to come to the table and hold themselves accountable for helping Cradle to Career achieve its goals, then the organization could “really do something great,” Parsons said. But, as things stand now, Evanston is still trying to figure out how to create a successful model for “collective impact,” where all of these different social service organizations collaborate to provide resources for people who need them.

‘Confusion and frustration’

“We’re so privileged to have all the institutions that we have, and the issue is none of us know how to work together. It’s really hard to collaborate because ‘Oh, that’s not my thing, that’s your thing,’ or ‘I’m focused on my thing, and I’ve got to stay in my lane, and I don’t want to share my data,'” Parsons said. “There’s confusion and there’s frustration on many different levels, and hopefulness that we can get this right eventually.”

Reacting to what Livingston and Parsons said about Cradle to Career, Campbell added that he would like to “force the conversation” with other groups around Evanston about how money is being spent on something like Cradle to Career.

Meanwhile, the superintendent also highlighted some of the items included in the budget that he said he’s most excited about, like a new family engagement coordinator.

“This particular strategy emerged out of the talkbacks that we did last year. As a part of my first year as superintendent, I got out and about in the community, and at one particular talkback, there was a lot of appreciation for what ETHS was doing, but there was still a great distance from this particular community of folks – it was at St. Nick’s [church],” Campbell said.

“We have to do a better job at connecting our intentions, what our heart is, to what the impact is really in the community. So this particular position is specifically designed to create more trust, more activity, more events for some of our students and families who feel like we do an OK job, but there’s such a gap between what we do and what the needs are.”

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. Good for board member Gretchen Livingston pointing out to a $50,000 program that doesn’t show any progress!!! We have too many of those!
    Meantime Chief Financial Officer Kendra Williams talks about “values-based” budgeting’ which resulted in INCREASED investments in areas that are “vital to meet student needs… “ But from Larry Gavin’s frequent articles not too much ACADEMIC PROGRESS is happening from those investments!

    However progress happens in other areas not necessarily good for the students: According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll (ASPEP), from. 1994 to 2022 the % change in Public K-12 students is: -2.2%. (that is MINUS 2.2%) while the % change in staffing is 34.4%.

    We at OLE — a now closed very poor Latino group– were very SUCCESSFUL with a program called “SHADOW,” where mostly H.School students spend a day or so following a college student through his/her classes and other activities, and even maybe sleep over which allows them to understand the advantages of a college education, AND, to find that it is indeed something that they actually would like and can do!
    So considering our successes at humble OLE, I question why such high caliber educational system like ETHS has such high number of kids who end the 13 years of this system without even contemplating the possibility of becoming a college student…who from very young they had already known that they would not go to college. Is it because it is not discussed at home? Didn’t select the right classes? Teachers don’t encourage it?
    To have so many kids who don’t have the urge –or INSPIRATION– to climb the economic ladder…to be upwardly mobile, to grab the American Dream, after 13 years in such wealthy and sophisticated school system? But rather only dream of getting some job so they can buy a car and finally have a good time free from the drag of schooling….

    I just wonder what doesn’t work when we pay for each K-8 over $15,000 and $23,000 for every H School student, for 13 YEARS! with MYRIADS of sophisticated programs…“vital to meet student needs… “ and EXPENSIVE administrators… It seems ETHS has too many of everything except people who can “INSPIRE A LIFELONG PASSION FOR LEARNING.”

  2. There’s nothing actually magic about a local agency budget crossing the $100 million line. It is, however a sort of mental landmark. Rounding $100,000,000 or so to “$100 million” is good journalistic style. But in this case, “$105.2 million” and “5.2 percent increase” are intriguing. Please forgive us who don’t know whether the previous budget was $100,000,000. This would be nice to have had somewhere in the extensive story. Details tell, sometimes even relatively trivial ones.