D65 board debates options to solve space issues at 3 Evanston schools

Manuel Rapada

Evanston/Skokie District 65 board members addressed the district’s imminent space needs Monday night, two months after voters rejected a referendum to provide funding for the construction of a 5th Ward school and improvements at other schools.

Mary Brown, the district’s chief financial officer, and John Castellana from Michigan-based TMP Architecture presented two options to resolve space issues at three schools: Lincolnwood Elementary School, Haven Middle School and Nichols Middle School.

District officials estimated future space needs using demographer John Kasarda’s “B projections,” which assume future fertility rates will remain constant through 2017 and housing turnover will occur as expected through the 2019-2020 school year.

In March, voters narrowly rejected a referendum that would have allowed D65 to issue $48.2 million in bonds – $20.6 million of which would have gone toward building a new 5th Ward school. About 55 percent of Evanston voters opposed the measure. Next school year, D65 projected a need for one classroom at Lincolnwood with a need for an additional room by the 2014-2015 school year.

Both options presented Monday night offered the same solution: moving a classroom for emotionally disabled (ED) students to Kingsley Elementary School, which currently has two unused classrooms, and converting office and conference space to a classroom this summer for $3,000.

In citizen comment, however, Cari Levin, founding director of Evanston Citizens for Appropriate Special Education, objected to a portion of a district memo that suggested having both primary and intermediate ED classrooms “affects the overall climate of the school.”

“How is it that nine children can affects the overall climate of the school?” she asked. “If you decide to move this program, then the message to the community will be, ‘These children are not welcome.’ I’m sure that is not what you want to do.”

Several board members expressed concern with moving the ED program, which board member Jerome Summers said would contradict a goal of the district’s five-year strategic plan to “maximize continuity” of program placement and services for special needs students.

Board member Richard Rhykus was willing to consider the move, adding that it would allow the district to look at how the program is staffed.

“If we move it, it could be an opportunity to rethink what the program is intended to accomplish and how it would accomplish that,” he said.

Board consensus, according to board president Katie Bailey, was to convert the office space into an additional fourth grade class after some parents at the meeting expressed concern at expected class sizes. With just three classrooms allocated for that grade level next year, the average 24.7 student class size would be the largest at Lincolnwood.

Solutions to solving middle school space issues were also discussed Monday night. The cost of classroom additions, cafeteria expansions and secure school entrances range from over one to $5.4 million per school. Funds for anything approved would come from the district’s debt service extension base.

At one point, more than 250 parents, teachers and elementary school students were in attendance, many of whom spoke out against planned changes to the increased workloads of physical education and fine arts teachers.

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