District 65 to vote on new school referendum at Monday meeting

Patrick Svitek

District 65 board members will vote whether to advance a referendum proposal to build a new school in Evanston’s Fifth Ward at their regular meeting tonight.

The board’s recommendation calls for opening a new K-5 school in the city’s central core – also known as the Fifth Ward – and reorganizing “space” at middle schools to address “social justice and space needs.”

If approved, the board motion would require a constituent referendum in March 2012 per state law.

The vote caps a nearly yearlong effort that started with the creation of the district’s new school-referendum committee, which eventually recommended building a new K-8 school in the Fifth Ward at a working meeting Sept. 12.

“It’s been a long process, but I feel like we’ve done our due diligence and are ready to move on to the next step,” said Board President Katie Bailey on Sunday.

She added she will be considering education quality and social justice – “all of those tied with issues of finance” – heading into tonight’s vote.

At a public forum Wednesday night, district parents expressed passionate support for the long-awaited proposition, hailing it as a way of installing the first neighborhood school in decades in the majority-minority Fifth Ward.

Since Foster School closed in 1979 , central core students have been bused to other D65 schools outside of their immediate neighborhood.

“For the past 44 years, the Fifth Ward community has been told it’s not the right time,” Evanston resident Susan Greene said before board members Wednesday. “I urge you to be courageous and take a risk because if not now, when?”

At a ward meeting Thursday night, Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said she supports the general concept of having a school in every community but does not know much about the district’s current plan.

Board member Jerome Summers on Sunday was more precise on the vote outlook: He said he is hopeful board members will put to rest the “45-year fight” to build the ongoing debate that has been helped by public input, especially Wednesday’s forum. That two-hour session came two days after several board members cast doubt on the proposal’s economic responsibility at a finance committee special meeting.

“It appeared as though they would take it off the table completely,” Summers said. “It is conceivable that it could’ve been killed before it even went to referendum. The Wednesday forum brought it back from the brink.”

Bailey agreed Wednesday’s public input session broadened board members’ perspectives on the new school issue.

“When you talk about education and kids, it’s hard to take out that passion,” she said.

Summers attributed parents’ heartfelt comments to the missing Fifth Ward school being a “wound that has not been healed” despite appearing on board agendas every few years.

At Wednesday’s forum, Greene cited a Steve Jobs quote in a 1998 Business Week article to try to prove this point. The late Apple founder told the magazine “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

“Evanston has a long history of fighting inequalities – inequities of all kinds – doing the right thing,” Summer said. “I’d like to think the good people of Evanston will continue in that vein.”

[email protected]