Discussing potential budget cuts, D65 school board members consider earlier middle school start times


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 Education Center, at 1500 McDaniel Avenue. At a meeting of the district’s Finance Committee, school board members discussed potential budget cuts to address a $1.9 million shortfall in the FY22 budget.

Christina Van Waasbergen, Reporter

In an effort to narrow the district’s budget deficit, the Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school board discussed changing school start times, laying off staff members and replacing an annual overnight trip with a less expensive day camp.

The district is facing a budget deficit of $1.9 million in FY22 due to revenue shortfalls and unexpected costs related to COVID-19, according to a district memorandum.

Board members discussed a set of proposals to reduce the budget, including laying off two food servers and eliminating library media assistant positions. The largest proposed cut, totalling around $415,000, could result from changing the start times of the district’s three middle schools from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.

Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial and operations officer, said this shift would allow buses to work in “pair routes,” where drivers would drop off students at an earlier-starting school and then go pick up students for a later-starting school. Currently, 40 percent of the district’s buses do pair routes, while the others only drive singular routes. The proposed change would mean all of the district’s buses would follow pair routes.

“The more pair routes that you have, the more money you save,” Obafemi said.

Another proposed change was to reorganize the processes for intervention under the district’s multi-tiered system of support, which provides extra help to students who have fallen behind in a particular subject in individualized, small or classroom-sized groups, depending on student need.

Stacy Beardsley, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, proposed a switch from one-on-one or small group help from specialists to a “more collectivist approach” that would change the structure of the school day to build in time for academic intervention by teachers.

This proposal would save an estimated $320,000 by switching some existing literacy specialists to a new role of “interventionists” and making the rest classroom teachers.

Horton said research shows reformatting the system of intervention could enable the district to achieve better outcomes while using less funding and staff.

The proposed changes had been analyzed to determine their impact on equity. Rather than using the Racial Equity Impact Assessment, where the district engages with stakeholders to determine how racial groups would be impacted by potential policy decisions, Horton said the administration determined the extent of each proposal’s equity impact based on internal conversations.

Most of the proposed changes had no or low impact. However, one proposed change that would eliminate a 5th grade annual overnight trip was deemed to have a highly negative impact. With estimated savings of $50,000, the proposal would replace the trip to Camp Timber-lee in East Troy, Wisconsin with a cheaper day camp.

Beardsley said she understood that the trip to the camp has been a tradition for a long time, but it is no longer clearly linked to learning.

“The camp itself has not been aligned clearly to learning outcomes for science, STEM or social-emotional learning for a number of years now,” Beardsley said.

She said the district should find a less expensive alternative with more clearly defined learning outcomes.

Board member Soo La Kim said the experience of spending a night away from home is an important part of the field trip. She suggested the district could look for local overnight camps or have students sleep at the school after a day camp as an alternative to Camp Timber-lee.

Board member Anya Tanyavutti said the district will have to make difficult choices, but they should be honest about the fact that the replacement might not be as good as Camp Timber-lee.

“Children having an opportunity (at the camp) to get to know themselves differently is something that is really hard to replicate in other spaces,” Tanyavutti said.

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Twitter: @cvanwaasbergen

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