After months of negotiations, District 65 community members say the vote against including an IGA in the 5/5 TIF came as a surprise


Illustration by Meher Yeda.

City Council approved the 5/5 TIF on a controversially split vote, deciding at the last minute to reject the proposed intergovernmental agreement with D65.

Olivia Alexander, Senior Staffer

After months of negotiations, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 community members were surprised to see City Council reject an intergovernmental agreement with the district. 

The agreement would have established mutual priorities in a tax increment financing district in the 5th Ward. That included affirming the city’s prioritization of funding projects that support home ownership, affordable housing and workforce development. The proposed agreement also called for a good-faith effort to establish a neighborhood school in the 5th Ward.

At its Oct. 25 meeting, City Council approved the 5/5 TIF on a controversially split 5-4 vote, re-voting at the last minute to reject the proposed intergovernmental agreement with the district.

In a letter to the District 65 Community, the school board said City Council’s lack of transparency came “somewhat as a surprise” and left the district without time to appropriately respond. 

The city response said Evanston shares many of the district’s values surrounding equity but prefers to implement them in different ways, and the decision to reject the agreement reflects the difficulty of negotiating contracts between separate government bodies.

Board President Anya Tanyavutti said at their initial meeting in July 2021, City Council and District 65 committed jointly to prevent the displacement of Black and brown families in Evanston.

“We communicated that we had concerns about the disproportionate impact of the policy on our most vulnerable populations,” Tanyavutti said. “We didn’t feel comfortable lending our public support to a policy that would have both financial implications on our institution, as well as social implications on the constituents that we represent.”

At the time, she said, the board concluded an intergovernmental agreement would be the best way forward. Although the district provided meeting notes to the city, the board never received a drafted agreement in return, Tanyavutti said. 

One key aspect of the agreement would have been a commitment to consider the recommendations of the district’s Student Assignment Project Committee. That team is currently working to recommend a pathway to return a public neighborhood school to the historically Black 5th Ward. 

The District 65 has bussed students living in the 5th Ward to five different elementary schools for more than 50 years.

Former District 65 parent and former City Council candidate Darlene Cannon, said without an intergovernmental agreement, the majority of the city tax revenue stream needed to maintain district buildings will be redirected to the TIF district. In the future, these redirected funds could have been used to build a neighborhood school. 

“I’m disappointed because I know that District 65 spent lots of time and care trying to draft an IGA to ensure that there will be some level of protection for families in Evanston,” Cannon said. 

She said there’s a direct relationship between students’ home environments and their ability to be able to focus and learn in school, and Cannon hoped the intergovernmental agreement would create measurements of accountability for affordable housing in the ward.

Instead, she said, she worries the TIF district will make establishing a 5th Ward school more difficult and impact families who are experiencing housing insecurity. 

“While we have these really nice developments and everything that we can pride ourselves on,” Cannon said, “Our schools are going to go without, and families will be displaced and possibly even leave this community that we say is so inclusive.”

City Council’s statement said Evanston has always taken District 65’s concerns seriously. The city said it will continue to work together with the district to develop solutions ensuring finite resources are allocated equitably in Evanston. 

Former District 65 parent Heather Sweeney agreed with Cannon, saying the rejection of the intergovernmental agreement is a “missed opportunity” for major entities in the city to work together.

“Evanston prides itself on its diversity,” Sweeney said. “That feels like a surface appreciation. When it comes to things like this, it doesn’t feel like there are actual assurances to make sure that we’re preserving economic diversity and quality of life for people who live here and have lived here for a long time.”

Evanston cannot call for diversity, she said, while losing its low-income and affordable housing. 

Sweeney said she appreciates the need to bring resources to the 5th Ward, but she believes there is a way to do so without pricing people out. 

“It seems like (the TIF) is going to have real, serious and long term implications for the city of Evanston, the makeup of Evanston, the livability of Evanston,” Sweeney said. “It’s important to be tuned into that now before it’s too late.” 

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Twitter: @oliviagalex

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