Board member blocks district head’s contract

Lily Leung

One school board member’s objection prevented Evanston Township High School’s board from renewing the superintendent’s contract Monday night.

School District 202 board member Martha Burns refused to approve the contract, citing an achievement gap she says Superintendent Allan Alson has not done enough to fix.

“I have a lot of respect for the ETHS school board and I know it’s a difficult task for the superintendent,” Burns said. “But there is a big achievement gap between white and black students. … We should expect a better return.”

The D202 superintendent’s contract must be approved unanimously by the board.

Burns said she and Alson will sit down to discuss the issue further. The board has postponed a vote on the contract for now.

Members of the board voted unanimously for the 2004-05 budget, but they are unsure how to relieve a $3.6 million deficit before the end of the year. The board will discuss potential cuts at the Oct. 6 finance meeting with the assistance of a consulting firm, said Business Manager Jeff Taggart. The meeting will be held at 7:30 a.m. at ETHS.

Board members will share their conclusions with the public in November. In December they will carry out the cuts.

The board must engage in open dialogue about goals and values before the district considers cutting programs, especially those for minorities, said member Ross Friedman.

“We have to consider all these different things before we say, ‘Let’s cut this and let’s cut that,'” he said.

Some board members said student, teacher and community input should be tapped before cuts are made. Member Mary Wilkerson said the district’s primary goal should be increasing student achievement and meeting national standards.

Former board member Boris Furman complained about the inconvenient timing of morning finance meetings and suggested that the board meet in the evening so teachers and community members can attend.

Although the board did not mention a tax hike as a possible solution for the deficit, Furman was concerned that an increase will happen.

Richard Weiland, a special education teacher at ETHS, complained that the size of his classes and his workload has doubled.

To solve its budget problems in the long run, D202 plans to put $13 million in reserve by 2010 by sticking to a reduction schedule over the next five years. The school board plans to cut up to $2.25 million next year alone.

Taggart said the plan will not eliminate the deficit forever, but it is the reasonable solution for now. The board’s plans can be changed if cuts exceeds the deficit estimates.

“We will try to reach the maximum (reductions) if possible,” Taggart said. “We wish to maintain the financial health of the district.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Laura Cooper reported that ETHS completed 20 of the 22 planned summer programs.

Two projects — Redesign of Bilingual Program and Using Tablet PC’s to Improve Achievement in Science — were not completed because the school did not receive funding to finish them.

Reach Lily Leung at