D202 board approves 2021 budget amid pandemic concerns

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave. The school will remain all remote until at least the end of the first semester.

Molly Burke, Reporter

The Evanston Township High School/District 202 school board approved its budget for the 2021 fiscal year at its Monday meeting, factoring in lost revenues and increased expenses related to COVID-19.

The budget largely funds teachers’ salaries and benefits, with 68 percent of the operating expenditures allotted to that category, the district’s chief financial officer, Mary Rodino, said. The board also discussed the responsibilities of student resource officers on campus and related consequences.

While remote learning and lost revenue have forced some personnel lay-offs, D202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said the district has focused on repurposing staff in new roles.

Over 30 staff members have shifted into a new role of managing caseloads of students, checking in daily with them and working with their teachers to foster relationships despite remote learning challenges.

Staff have also taken on the duty of book and supply distribution, delivery and collection that continues throughout the year as units change and new supplies are required.

While there have been some reductions in revenue and concerns about future decreases in evidence-based funding from the state, the district’s final budget was balanced and didn’t “dip into the rainy day fund,” Witherspoon said.

Rodino presented possible outcomes of recovery of funds over the next four years, ranging from slow to rapid responses and leaving different amounts in the school’s financial reserves. The board agreed that D202 was faring better than many other districts across the nation.

“All those years of being so thoughtful and so careful about our budget and making sure that we were prepared and that our funds were solid, it will help us weather this storm a little bit,” school board president Pat Savage-Williams said.

The final budget for the 2021 fiscal year totaled $91.4 million for all funds — 1 percent increase from the fiscal year 2020 budget. The approved budget also incorporated a $1.4 million decrease in funding from the tentative budget proposed at a previous school board meeting in June.

While budgets often have slight reallocations throughout most fiscal years, Rodino said any changes in instruction to become hybrid or any other significant pandemic-related changes would mean the board would have to revisit and revise the plan.

The board also discussed the role of school resource officers at ETHS, with many board members voicing concerns that while individual officers have been satisfactory, the system of policing could be traumatic to students.

For those who have had negative experiences with police outside school, seeing uniformed officers in ETHS might be distressing, school board vice president Monique Parsons explained.

“I have to think about that experience that that child is having or that student is having when they see an officer walking down the hallway that resembles that officer that just stopped their father weeks ago,” Parsons said.

The discussion of school resource officers and other police reforms is also happening at the city level in Evanston, largely fueled by calls to defund police amid protests this spring and summer. For the district, the next step will be consideration and reform of discipline policies and practices by a committee.

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Twitter: @mollyfburke

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