D65 budget in ‘strong shape’ to fund programs

Nomaan Merchant

For many area school districts, budget season signals a time of panic and proposed cuts.

But Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will have no problems balancing its budget for the seventh year running, administrators said in a school board subcommittee meeting Monday night.

“We are in a strong financial position,” Superintendent Hardy Murphy said during a Program and Policy Committee meeting. “Our budget is in good enough shape to support the instructional initiatives in it.”

The district plans to spend almost $2.3 million on 27 new program initiatives during the 2006-07 school year. These include the district’s African-centered curriculum pilot program, a new Spanish teacher for two district schools and five teachers to help reduce class sizes.

Some board members asked for an evaluation of the district’s after-school program for underachieving students.

“I think we should try to get some sense of whether extended day is having an effect,” board member Mary Rita Luecke said.

Board member Jonathan Baum requested clarification of the district’s proposal to hire consultants to assist with the African-centered pilot next year.

Murphy said the district wanted outside help as it implements the African-centered pilot at Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave., starting this fall.

The pilot program and other new programs targeting black student achievement will cost just under $120,000.

Eventually the proposed budget additions were referred to the board’s finance committee for further review.

This fall, district elementary school students also will use new reading and language textbooks. District 65 will spend more than $600,000 to implement Macmillan/McGraw Hill’s new “Treasures” textbook series in classrooms.

Literacy director Ellen Fogelberg said the books focus more on developing fluency and nonfiction reading.

“I do think there’s a marked difference between what we have here and what we were doing before,” Fogelberg said.

The materials will be used in the Two-Way Immersion program – which places native English and native Spanish speakers in one classroom and provides instruction in both languages – as well as in the African-centered curriculum pilot.

Fogelberg said classrooms with the pilot will receive an “infusion” of books and other materials that focus on African and black culture to supplement the “Treasures” series.

The new series has an Internet component and also builds test preparation into the curriculum.

School districts in two Chicago area suburbs are also adopting “Treasures,” including Cicero, which, like Evanston, is racially diverse.

Board members looked through sample books from the new curriculum, which Fogelberg said should produce a “statistically significant” increase in student achievement.

“It’s a model of what I like to see,” Baum said. “It’s really a super job.”

Board members will formally approve the new textbook series in the board’s June 19 meeting.

The Program and Policy Committee also discussed items it plans to address next year.

The subcommittee next meets on June 5. The board’s finance committee will meet June 12.

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