Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Editorial: Fifth Ward school is a priority, but not at any cost

When the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school board voted Monday in favor of opening an elementary school in the Fifth Ward, it ended a controversy, now several years old, on the racial divide in Evanston’s school system. Every predominantly residential ward in Evanston has an elementary school. Only the Fifth Ward, which is a predominantly black neighborhood, is left out. Its students bear the brunt of local busing programs.

For these reasons, we strongly support a Fifth Ward school in principle. But we cannot support the fiscal irresponsibility the board seems ready to suborn in approving a plan to open the school by 2004 even in the face of substantial budget problems. By setting such a early deadline for the project, the board likely will force the district to borrow heavily to fund the construction instead of taking time to line up other financing.

The district already is facing a budget shortfall, which is expected to widen to $5 million by 2005 even without any new construction. Since the board can raise taxes only by a special referendum for voters, it has just one financing option, which it seems poised to accept without enough forethought: taking on more debt. According to district administrators, the board could borrow as much as $14.8 million given its current cash reserves.

But the district shouldn’t borrow that kind of money. Debt it takes on will have to be repaid later by cutting educational programs if projections for future revenues pan out as expected. Instead of risking future cuts, the district should slow down and finance construction by trimming the budget in other areas or raising taxes.

In the meantime, the district should look for affordable, short-term solutions to ameliorate some of the problems the school’s absence creates. District 65 administrators could work with community groups to start local after-school programs, for example.

In the long term, we hope the district will continue to make the new school a priority — while heeding its fiscal implications.

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Editorial: Fifth Ward school is a priority, but not at any cost