District 65 board to discuss 5th Ward school

Jackie Chiang

Tonight’s Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board meeting will be dedicated solely to the discussion of a Fifth Ward school proposal.

Detailing curriculum, location and financial feasibility of a Fifth Ward school, a report prepared for the board by District 65 Superintendent Hardy Ray Murphy and several board members will be publicly presented and discussed at tonight’s meeting.

The Fifth Ward is the only ward in Evanston without its own elementary school. Students living there, most of whom are black, are bused to different schools in the city. Concerns about negative effects of busing on minority achievement is one reason why a Fifth Ward school was proposed in January.

The board also will address the district’s 60 percent guideline, a rule that states no school population may contain more than 60 percent of any racial group.

Currently, busing students from the Fifth Ward to other wards helps predominately white schools meet this standard. A Fifth Ward school could violate this guideline and cause others to do so.

Board member Hecky Powell said he is not optimistic about the school’s chances.

“The votes are not there,” he said. “The board will receive too much support from the community to restore programs we cut.”

District 65, like many districts throughout Illinois, is caught in a financial bind, Powell said. The district has no way of knowing whether it will receive more or less money from the state each year. But many community members would see financing a Fifth Ward school as an indication the district can afford to restore programs or increase teacher salaries, he said.

In spite of his misgivings, Powell said he hopes he is wrong.

“Let me make myself clear: I just don’t want it to become a race issue, but that’s where it’s heading,” Powell said. “It’s not a black and white issue, it’s a green issue.”

Board member Greg Klaiber said he disagrees with Powell’s prediction about the school’s future.

“I think that was a little premature to say at this time,” Klaiber said. “Some of us haven’t made up our minds.”

Klaiber said Powell is correct that there are important financial factors to consider. One problem could be negotiating with Family Focus — housed at the location of the former Foster School, 2010 Dewey Ave., and a possible site for the new school — about renovating its building’s classrooms, Klaiber said. But the board is going through this process to determine whether or not the proposal is financially feasible, he said.

Board President John Chatz said he shares many of Klaiber’s sentiments.

“I don’t know where (Powell) is coming from,” Chatz said. “I don’t know if anyone else other than him has made up their mind.”

Chatz said he believes everyone on the board thinks the school is a good idea in theory, but that it has to be financially workable.