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District 65 board candidates discuss $4.5 million deficit, equity at education forum

The+Joseph+E.+Hill+Early+Childhood+Education+Center+holds+the+offices+for+Evanston%2FSkokie+School+District+65.+Five+candidates+for+the+District+65+school+board+spoke+at+a+forum+Tuesday+night.+
The Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center holds the offices for Evanston/Skokie School District 65. Five candidates for the District 65 school board spoke at a forum Tuesday night.

The Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center holds the offices for Evanston/Skokie School District 65. Five candidates for the District 65 school board spoke at a forum Tuesday night.

Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center holds the offices for Evanston/Skokie School District 65. Five candidates for the District 65 school board spoke at a forum Tuesday night.

Victoria Cabales, Reporter

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District 65 school board candidates spoke about closing the achievement gap among minority students and offsetting the district’s deficit at a forum Tuesday evening.

The forum — sponsored by the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership of Evanston and the NAACP — was held at Family Focus. It was organized to increase voter turnout ahead of the upcoming school board election.

Board president Candance Chow, who is running for re-election, said an influx of more than 1,420 new students over the past 10 years necessitated an increase in revenue. However, the district has been unable to obtain funding from the state without driving up property taxes.

“The board and the administration have made (about) $11 million in reductions throughout the last seven years to help us stay in a position in which we don’t have to drastically cut services and impact the core of the classroom,” Chow said. “We can’t do that any longer.”

Chow and the other four candidates who spoke Tuesday said they would support a $14.5 million tax referendum to offset the impact of the district’s $4.5 million deficit. Without that referendum, the deficit will exceed $10 million by 2020, according to the district’s budget projections. The district would have to cut $8.8 million to balance its budget.

In addition, revenue gained from the referendum could be used to promote equality by funding early literacy programs and support students with disabilities, according to the district’s budget projections. Other investments would be geared toward technology and smaller classroom sizes.

Incumbent school board member Anya Tanyavutti said the deficit must be addressed to make sure the needs of all students — particularly students of color — are met.

Tanyavutti said the school district has an unequal disciplinary system, in which black students receive four to five times more infractions than other students. She said she hopes some of the funding from the tax referendum will be used to push for restorative disciplinary programs.

“(The current system) ignores the emotional experience of children and families who are experiencing institutional marginalization,” Tanyavutti said. “Unintentionally, our practices and our policies have left some folks behind.”

Several candidates said academic performance reports illustrate District 65’s need for additional funding for programs that promote diversity and inclusion. While white students scored around the 70th percentile on standardized tests, black and Latino students averaged around the 20th percentile.

“Whether the (property tax) referendum passes or not, we have to look at equity as something we should be committed to,” incumbent board member Suni Kartha said. “If we have to cut millions of dollars from our budget next year, that’s going to hurt all of us.”

The election for both the board members and the property tax referendum will be held on April 4.

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