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In reality, 2-3 schools will ultimately be closed. The BOE and Admin are withholding truths; treating the community like children. They think we’re dumb (at worst) or just apathetic (at best). And I for one am so freaking tired of it. Many of us have taken big hits trying to wake up this town —but in truth, I’m not sure this community cares in big enough numbers to take back control. Maybe certain groups will wake up when their school is shuttered, but by then —what does this district look like? Holes, asbestos, mice infestations, lack of air circulation (hello COVID & fed $$ —ever wonder where those millions went?!), ADA compliance? Who cares, right. Whatevs….and don’t even get started on the screwed up curriculum situation and the lack of any meaningful progress for our most vulnerable student cohort showing up at ETHS’ doors not even close to anything resembling grade level…. I mean seriously, Tom & subscribers, what the hell is wrong with people in this town?! What is it going to take??!

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Apr 23Liked by Tom Hayden

There is so much to say on this topic:

1. I had a Zoom conference with Dr. Horton and Dr. Obafemi shortly before the vote to proceed with the 5th Ward project. They were at that point projecting only $1 million from the sale of Bessie Rhodes. I am pretty sure that was also stated in various Board meetings prior to the vote. Of course, market conditions change and both of these gentlemen have shown themselves to be liars of the highest order, so take that for what its worth. Anyone planning on the sale of BR providing meaningful funding should look elsewhere.

2. I have said it before and will say it again - how Cordogan Clark still has the contract for the project is completely beyond me. At a minimum, they should have let the Board know before they signed the lease certificates that the $40 million budget was not going to cut it. There were also multiple other opportunities for them to speak out as Horton continued to tell lies about the project, but they let him continue to spew nonsense about the project. They probably also should have told the Board that before they borrowed money for the project they should do some of the homework for the project like site suitability studies (the punchline to that story is that the soil conditions are subpar, adding something on the order of $6 million to the price tag). If I had a vendor that led me down the path the way that CC has, fired is a way too gentle word to describe how they would be gone. Instead they are billing this project out the wazoo and are trusted advisors to the District. I don't get it.

3. Sergio Hernandez's duplicity has not gotten nearly enough attention. He signed a letter to ISBE stating the transportation savings was going to be $5 million as part of the process of applying for an award. As we all know now, that number is actually $750K. In fact the entire D65 transportation budget was less than prior to 2022. (Source: https://evanstonroundtable.com/2024/02/12/district-65-prepares-for-budget-cuts-that-are-going-to-be-hard/) The net outcome of selling the 5th Ward financing project that was that D65 got an award, the communications team at D65 rolled out a press release right before the last election about all the awards the District was winning (nothing to see here ... ) and he snuck by John Martin.

4. The cost of the new building is $48M, they have $40M in the bank. No one is talking about how they are going to cover the hole between what they have and what they need to spend. That is something that they need cash for to pay contractors as the bills come due. My guess is that they will raid District reserves but so far, no one is talking about it.

5. There will be multiple school closures coming over the horizon. The District is talking about "consolidation" in public. The simple fact is that what they are going to do is going to change neighborhoods forever and this something that deserves robust public discussion. It will instead be delegated to the SAP Committee which is really a facade of public involvement.

6. The Board has no interest in seeing kids return to D65. Ed Finkel wrote an article a few weeks ago in the Roundtable where Sergio Hernandez claimed that they were doing outreach to families that left to bring them back. I am, ahem ... skeptical on that. The way that they are achieving reductions in expenses is through attrition. They don't need to replace folks who leave if there aren't students for them to teach. If people start using the schools that they are paying for again, that would be a disaster.

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As for point three, I didn’t consider the election. Also relevant is that he works for the ISBE. I am working on a case involving election shenanigans in D219 right now, so staring at election laws. Gonna add this one to the list.

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This is a great post, thank you! One thought .. can they touch the reserves for construction without triggering a requirement for a referendum? I guess yeah as long as nobody sues?

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Did the board put out a CFP for the Cordogan Clark job? Also, I have never been clear about their role throughout the process. The first I remember hearing about them (I think) was when they did the District-wide facilities study that came up with the $180 million upkeep costs needed to address current deficiencies.

But they also are the architects of the new school, apparently. Are they getting the construction contract as well?

Again, was there one CFP for all this stuff? Or multiple ones?

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23Author

That's a good question - I can't remember. Cordogan-Clark has been the District's architects for a long time, they were doing stuff for D65 long before the fifth ward school mess. Let me see if they put one out for this work, in particular. I'm not sure.

I have seen some stuff indicating they're bidding out contractor work, though.

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Apr 23Liked by Tom Hayden

It is curious to look at D65 process compared to what happened in Skokie. As far as I can tell they had the whole design situation wrapped up in Sept. 2019, got the lease certificates in Dec. 2019, and had 42 bids for construction with the winning bid being approved in April 2020. They have the whole process laid out in a nice part of their website: https://www.sd69.org/about-d69/construction-planning

Meanwhile, two years after issuing the lease certificates, D65 is still holding "Design Open Houses".

Also I noticed on the D65 page: "Spring-Summer 2024

Three phase bidding process. D65 is committed to working with minority- and women-owned businesses"

https://www.district65.net/register4/student-assignment/student-assignment-planning-sap/5th-ward-school

We are 35 days into Spring with 59 left to go. As of today, there are no bid opportunities on the website: https://www.district65.net/about1/budget-finance/bid-opportunities

When is "Phase One" of the 3-phase bidding process going to commence?!?!

D65 Amateur Hour, once again!

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23Author

FYI there was an update last night:

https://www.youtube.com/live/_VdF2nQqpZc?si=3O_hB3KNlOhm_HJn&t=2293

Seems like its in zoning and they are going to start collecting suggestions for the name. Who is going to submit Dr. Horton's name?

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23Author

Thank you for doing this Skokie research. Also, they had their own drama with the building too, it wasn't like they didn't have to consider community feedback just as much as Evanston does.

I think the "Design Open Houses" are largely show-and-tell for administrators and not meaningful progress. I think it's useful in the initial phases before you take out the money, but once you have the money, you gotta move fast.

For instance, Horton held a big "Design Open House" in February 2023, right during election season (there were even candidates present at this meeting!)

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23

The Skokie drama was really based on nostalgia and not at all realistic. I understand that alumni don't like to see their schools disappear; my elementary school is gone, my jr. high was renamed, my first HS is gone and even my college building was razed and rebuilt. There was simply no way to retrofit a nearly 100 year-old building. I thought D69 did a good job of explaining why they needed to do what they did. East Prairie D73 had to go through the same thing and now has a state-of-the-art K-8 school that was finished in 2019.

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Funny since the rationale for the “Fifth Ward” school was also entirely based on nostalgia!

There was never any data presented indicating that bussing is a factor in poor educational outcomes and it certainly isn’t justified based on enrollment trends or budget projections.

Unfortunately in Evanston the nostalgics run the school board!

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This just shows the a$$ backwardness and incompetence of the Board and admin. In Skokie it started in 2016 with a comprehensive look at their facilities (admittedly it is less complex since they only have 3 schools, I think). They prioritized refurbs on a couple and then did the rebuild. They worked through all of the drama etc and tallied the costs so by Autumn 2019 they were ready to go.

Here the Board started from an end goal (new school) ignored its facilities analysis, lied about the cost of the school and how it would be paid for to avoid voter scrutiny, and then created a fiscal crisis that makes their "hand tied" regarding the need to close a school.

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23Author

Perhaps the intent was never to build a new school but instead to say they built a new school so they could get a dream job in Dekalb. Keep in mind that the Superintendent (May 2023), the CFO (August 2023), and the Board President (September 2022) at the time have all bounced elsewhere. It is the former Board President who signed the lease certificate.

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These are great comments. IMO they 1000% hid all of this so they could take the election. It's all so corrupt. I agree there will be multiple school closures but then that will require more bussing, then what? I thought Sergio said last night the goal is to have every child have a walkable school. I have also thought that if enrollment starts to increase again the remaining schools will be overcrowded and they will have to pay more staff, then what?

Do you think they have a plan of how they are going to come up with the extra $8 million for the new school? Perhaps someone should reach out to Dr. Grossi. He seems to have some financial sense.

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I did reach out to him but haven't heard back, but it's only been a few days. I'm going to reach out to the District on this too because it's not super clear to me how they can proceed without all the funds in place.

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Apr 22·edited Apr 22Liked by Tom Hayden

I am a real estate person and have financed a lot of commercial projects. Too many and far more complicated than this. Here’s the jist - this school will not get built. The sources and uses of the project do not match up meaning the money has not been raised to fund the full project costs. The only money raised to date are the lease certs - $10 million short of projects uses. You can’t consider Bessie Rhodes a source bc it’s hadn’t happened and won’t happen until the project is completed or close to it. Similarly the bus savings is a budget item not a source of equity.

These people (board and admins) are completely in over their heads have no business trying to complete a development of a new school. I guaranty the contractor and architects know this and are just milking it while they can, taking advantage of the hundreds of changes to the scale, etc. The architects have been paid $6.5m to date and there has not even been a shovel in the ground…that’s almost 15% of the total development cost. This is what happens when you deal with incompetence.

Mark my words - no funds, no school. And honestly that’s fine with me. Huge waste of time and money for something that is so far down on the list of what D65 needs. Glad the board bypassed a referendum only to end up wasting millions for nothing.

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Thank you for this! Whats the general way money gets allocated for a project like this? Is there some kind of building escrow where the full money goes?

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Apr 22Liked by Tom Hayden

It kind of depends on the profile of the borrower.... and the requirements of the lease certs. I know D65 is holding the lease certificate funds in an investment account that is earning interest which is good because it's helping offset the interest on the lease certs. I would expect the district to have all $48M + contingency in this account before a shovel goes in the ground. The bonds may require a separate account or escrow. Regardless, it's highly unusual and quite frankly unethical to start a construction project (particularly given D65's financial problems, lack of experience building schools and that on budget developments are very hard to pull off, particularly in the post Covid era of supply chain issues and inflation) unless you have all the funds plus a contingency in an account. The idea that they "might" sell Bessie Rhodes for an "undetermined" amount of money sometime in 2 years and that's a source of equity for this project kills me and just goes to show massive incompetency in their decision making.

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This is interesting. Is this why there has been no construction? Tom mentions the Skokie school that was constructed straight away with partial lease certificate financing. Tom's article from a few months ago linked to Patch reporting that said the $25 million lease certificate financing was complemented by "$13 million in reserve funds and $32 million in previously issue construction bonds."

Was a referendum held for those $32 million used in Skokie? The Patch article is confusing. They don't mention the lease certificates, but I'm assuming the $25 million from the lease certificates is included in the $32 million number?

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So you can use bond money for the stuff inside the school without a referendum. So my understanding is they built it with lease certificate money and put stuff in it with bond money.

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Apr 22Liked by Tom Hayden

The Skokie project also included a complete teardown of the existing building as well as a fending off a group trying to save the old school.

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Apr 23·edited Apr 23Author

This is a great point, I didn't consider that you can also use general funds to do a teardown without a referendum. So the numbers make sense to me $32m - $25m = $7m used for stuff inside the building, teardown of the existing property, etc. And then the actual laying of bricks and digging of holes was ~$25m.

I need to find someone who is an expert on school construction referendums. Maybe I'll call the ISBE today.

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Apr 22Liked by Tom Hayden

Don't forget that the teachers are negotiating a new contract. Based on inflation the last five years and what Evanston workers received last year, the teacher salaries should bump up 20-25%.

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Apr 22·edited Apr 22Author

I hope so but RIP the budget. The teachers do get inflation raises in their existing contract but it is capped.

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Does anyone even go to these meetings and ask questions about financial decisions? I would start with a simple wtf? I’m frightened at the outlook for this city. Both the city and D65 are in absolute dire straits, but no one seems to want to talk about it. Feels like both entities want to continue spending money like we print it. Am I wrong? Please correct me if I am.

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I do but I am the only one talking finance

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When is the next election for Board members? I hope many, many Evanstonians are paying attention to what you've been explaining.

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April 2025

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Apr 22·edited Apr 22

Now I fear even the construction of the scaled back school will do more harm than good. We have to shoe horn in a school that will give us less than we had before (with the closing of Rhodes and most likely another school on the north side).

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Apr 22·edited Apr 22Author

I didn't appreciate how bad the repair expenses are in the middle schools. They maybe should've built this K-8 with a referendum and then closed Haven. The problem is that without a referendum there is absolutely no way they can afford to build a K-8 school.

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Nichols has been ignored ever since they put that very poorly constructed addition on it. While the Gym has been getting attention, the real nightmare is the Auditorium. There are dozens of broken seats, exposed asbestos from cracked floor tile, no ventilation and a stage that is not only not ADA compliant but is partially constructed of loose blocks that have to be watched during every performance to make sure that student chairs do not fall into the gaps. This space is the "Drama Room" and hundreds of students are in there every day. The District has been aware of this for years and basically told us to find our own money for renovation; we actually did raise a large amount of money pre-Covid and were on the way to starting the project but all the funds were taken by the District when they raided the PTA budgets.

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Wow. That goes back to the whole PEP Fund discussion. So I guess it is-- let all of our buildings fall apart together. Just like the remote learning hidden message, we will all fall behind together. This town!

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Can the PTA sue to get that money back!?! How was that legal?

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“The closing of another north side school”. I hope parents can see the writing on the wall. When the students being bused to Willard and Lincolnwood they will have to consolidate/ close another school

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Orrington currently has 250 students K-5.

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And sits on $$$$ land

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Orrington is also the top ranked school in district 65. Truly a gem of a school. That said I would not at all be surprised if this board killed its best ranked school. I guess it would make the disparity of the top and bottom ranked schools a bit closer? I sincerely hope they don't touch Orrington.

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Orrington has always been a target. If they can, they will. No doubt in my mind. Tragic all around. But in the end, this is what Evanston voted for over and over again.

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Isn't Orrington supposed to get a material amount of new potential students under the post-5th ward school opening-boundaries (mostly former Kingsley students)? I think between the new school opening / students moving to Orrington, Kingsley would lose a huge percentage of its student body. I've heard Orrington brought up by many as the most likely target, but that always seemed strange given many of the students that live in the eastern part of its boundaries would potentially have to be bussed to other schools.

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