Voters reject District 65 referendum
The $48.2 million bond question rejected by voters included $20.1 million to construct a new elementary school at Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue in Evanston.
Updated: March 20, 2012 10:33PM
Voters in Evanston-Skokie School District 65 have rejected a $48.2 million bond issue to construct an elementary school in the Fifth ward and expand Haven and Nichols middle schools to prepare for an influx of students.
Final, but unofficial vote totals Tuesday showed the bond question losing by 55 to 45 percent in a low-turnout election. With all 61 precincts reporting, the vote was 6,619 yes to 8,020 no.
The single question bundled $20.1 million in borrowing for the new elementary school into a something-for-everyone package. The bond issue provided $20.6 million for additions at Haven and Nichols middle schools and $6 million for upgrades at Chute Middle School and the two magnet schools, King Lab and Bessie Rhodes.
Supporters saw the referendum question as a “complete solution”: An opportunity to right an injustice, alleviate space shortages and modernize the science laboratories into STEM laboratories for integrating science, technology, engineering and math instruction.
But others felt that School District 65 couldn’t justify the need for 18 new elementary classrooms at this time. Some voters conceded they were tapped out by ever-rising property taxes and might have been forced to vote no, even if the space was needed. Some would have preferred that School District 65 break the bundle into two questions.
After nearly a year of citizen study and public debate, the District 65 School Board voted 5-2 in December to give voters the final say on whether the school system should construct a new elementary school in west Evanston.
Speakers had decried that black children from west Evanston had historically borne the bussing burden to integrate the schools.
But several board members wondered how School District 65 would find the money to staff the new classrooms and pay higher overhead, since the district then was staring at a $3.8 million deficit for the upcoming school year. The School Board considered also asking voters to approve an operating tax increase, but that question was set aside.
School District 65’s last referendum in 2000 won 3-1. The $28.5 million in borrowing was used to finance a new administration building and early childhood center; purchase classroom technology and a districtwide phone system and make sundry improvements to all 16 school buildings.
School District 65 has not asked voters for an operating tax increase in 24 years.