Ryan Wangman, Assistant City Editor
January 11, 2017
The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board voted unanimously Monday to add a property tax referendum to the April municipal ballot in an effort to combat rising educational costs and limited district revenues.
The referendum would raise property taxes by 0.59 percent, or about $450 dollars annually for an average Evanston property owner. District 65 board president Candance Chow said that if the referendum fails to pass in April, the district’s only other option would be significant budget cuts that would likely result in school closings and substantial increases in class sizes.
“These are not small impact reductions,” Chow told The Daily. “They will impact the classroom, they will impact the teaching and learning environment for children significantly. … With what we know today, our projections are that with those (referendum) monies we would be able to maintain and continue to enrich the classroom experience.”
According to board documents, the district’s budget is balanced for the current year, but the future total deficit without any further action is projected to be $114.4 million by fiscal year 2025. With no state budget, this is a conservative estimate, as there could be an additional $6 million to $8 million annually cut from the district’s budget, Chow said.
Bridget Nelson, a mother of three children in District 65, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Nelson said that she, along with other parents and community members, supported the referendum, and also warned of the ramifications of potential budget cuts.
“If these types of cuts were made, it would be so unfair to so many children,” Nelson said. “It would dramatically change Evanston: our children, our families and our community.”
District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren argued at the meeting that the projected referendum revenue of $113.2 million will support further educational investment, allowing the district to continue to support talent, strengthen core curriculum and decrease class sizes, among many listed goals.
However, he said he understood the challenges that accompany increased taxes.
“Raising the tax burden on taxpayers, on homeowners (or) on renters is not something any of us would like to see,” Goren said. “And yet as we think about the fabric of our community, and the fabric of our schools and what makes them so great, we’re at a pivot point.”
While enrollment in the district has increased by about 1,500 students since 2007, Chow said the district had not received commensurate income to serve the newcomers.
“Folks are committed to public education in Evanston, and they’re committed to preparing children for bright futures, so my hope would be that they would support this referendum,” Chow told The Daily.