D65 Receives Extra Funds

By Deepa SeetharamanThe Daily Northwestern

Evanston schools in District 65 will enjoy an additional $200,000 in state funding for the 2006-07 school year, said school board officials at a meeting Monday night. The district will receive a total of $300,000 in supplemental state aid, which is in addition to this year’s $86 million budget.

The additional funding is a significant increase from the $100,000 the district usually receives. State funding usually makes up 9 percent of the budget.

“This is a one-time increase based on last year’s enrollment,” said Mary Brown, the district’s chief financial officer.

The increase came as a surprise to district officials, who were notified of the extra funds Friday. The additional money was not factored into this school year’s budget, Brown added.

“We’ve had some good luck in the past few days,” said District Superintendent Hardy Murphy.

The money will be used to improve the D65 school curriculum, but no details have been set, said Ellen Fogelberg, district literary director. It may be used to improve special education programs and services for low-income students, and to add to technology in the classroom. Fogelberg said the money could also be used to improve Two-Way Immersion, a bilingual program in several of Evanston elementary schools.

The budget, adopted with a 7-0 vote, gives the district a surplus of $1.7 million this school year, despite the loss of a $312,000 preschool grant earlier this month.

The district had applied for the grant but was not approved. The loss largely contributed to a $400,000 salary decrease split across the district.

Revenues increased by 6 percent this year, coming mostly from property taxes. It is the fifth consecutive year the district has balanced its budget.

The board also approved, by a 5-2 vote, an evaluation form for Murphy. Board members Marianne Kountoures and Jerome Summers did not approve the evaluation form, saying there was little room to evaluate Murphy’s leadership skills. Board president Mary Erickson said the evaluation form would eventually be improved.

School board officials also discussed a report on the progress and possible improvements in the district’s special education programs. Geneva Oatman, director of the department of special services, noted six main areas of improvement including communication between Evanston Township High School and D65 schools.

One major problem is “over-representation” of certain students in special education, Oatman said.

The number of minorities in special education is disproportionate to their representation in Evanston, she said, citing a state report released in July. The report, which focuses on the 2004-05 school year, shows that black students made up 41 percent of special education students in Evanston schools.

“The pattern is still consistent (this year),” Oatman said.

Despite the district’s financial success, former board president Hecky Powell sharply criticized the school board during citizen comment.

Saying the group doesn’t work well together, Powell warned further divisions among board members could create a “crisis in the community.”

“This board right now is basically a dysfunctional board,” he said.

Deepa Seetharaman can be reached at [email protected]