Core Team to School Board: K-3. School Board to Core Team: K-4, and you're so not done.

It was not unanimity's night.

On Wednesday, June 6th, at its last – and arguably, longest – meeting of the school year, the Winnetka School Board made the first of many tough choices.

In a "we're not calling it a vote" vote, the Board went cautiously thumbs-up for K-4 – the version of its Education Master Facility Plan that keeps Kindergarten through fourth grades in neighborhood schools, moves fifth and sixth grades to Washburne, and shutters Skokie School (for now).

Ouch. The Core Team – at least the majority, cue video – had just raised its hand for K-3. The one that does a lot of that, plus groups classes by learning styles, disrupts the least number of families, and delivers the most enrollment flex. Biggest bang. Biggest bucks. They said.

Teachable moment.

(Curious? Process at 1:08. Core Team present at 33:40. Board on-on-ones at 1:40:10.)

Top Line Gut Check

'Go big, go bold!' only goes so far when you're working with other people's money. Taxpayer hats on, the Board went with possible over preferable.

Hulsizer: Claimed K-5 an “economic windfall,” then dismissed it as “not defensible.” Decided it’s not all about economics, and wanted to know what he’s getting for his money. Eventually chose K-4 as in “the least amount of friction.” Called it a “cultural and economic decision.”

Cirulis: Joined Hulsizer between the rock and hard place. Felt that redistricting was a “real problem for the culture and eventually real estate values.” Liked K-3’s “wiggle room,” but went with K-4 for its balance between “tumult,” educational outcomes, and fiscal responsiveness. Not confident at this time…

Roberts: On Board’s Financial Committee, respected the work, struggled with the numbers. What-if'd 'no new taxes,' and when that turned rhetorical, decided still too many unknowns, wanted to keep all options on the table, and went for K-5. For now.

Pehlke: As Board Liaison to the Core Team, spent the most time with them, appreciated “philosophically the benefits of keeping grades 4,5, & 6 together,” still, wanted to keep K-4 on the table.

Livingston: Supported the Core Team, swayed by educators liking K-3, claimed that “the community doesn’t like change," and went with K-4 because it’s what they know. Felt K-5 was a “colossal waste of money,” and probably wouldn’t vote for it in a referendum.

Conine: Not feeling it yet. Felt not enough info to decide, so abstained. Wanted to know what the real pain was, how much modernization increases property taxes, and what residents think.

Hertel: Board Prez thinks “K-5 makes no sense on so many levels,” ticked off options, landed on K-4, urged the Board to figure out what success looks like, and promised that if the numbers don’t work, the other options may reboot and repeat.

Oh, and One More Thing...

The Board also told the Core Team, 'see ya in August with numbers for light, medium, and heavy levels of modernization.' Cost estimator - maybe make that plural - keep in touch. Now it gets interesting.‌‌‌

Our Eyes are On...

  • Fifth grade. Will it get its own school-within-a-school? Be grouped with 6th grade as it is now?
  • Those numbers for levels of “modernization?” Tight enough by August to take to the bank?
  • Outreach. Ah, outreach. Poll? Survey? Engagement sessions with give and take? Before or after the Board’s decision?
  • Some Board members still desperate for metrics. Will cost-per-square-foot be one of them?
  • Still looking for that ROI. If it's the wrong question, what's the right one?
  • Three of the seven Community Members on the Core Team don’t want K-5 to go away. Will it?

Summer Reading

It's Board Out for summer. Here are your beachy reads...

Now you know what they know.

Want more? Binge watch Board Meetings and sign up for a heads-up.

Then pencil-in the next School Board Meeting: Tuesday, August 21st, 7:15 pm, Hubbard Woods School.

The board gets it. They know going to referendum with just a quarter of the community isn't going to cut it. They also know this town has a history of doing just that. They don't want to be that guy. They’re going to ask you again what you think of the plan. Make sure you know what they’re really talking about. Contact the School Board for anything else you need to know.

 

Spot Check: Deliberation, Check. Taxation, Check. Representation, TBD.

On Tuesday, June 6th, the District 36 School Board was expected to meet with the Core Team and go lid-down on 11 months of meetings, field trips, PowerPoints, engagement sessions, and shared documents. The agenda: Deliberate, debate, and decide the fate of the Future Ready Educational Master Facility Plan...and of every taxpayer in Winnetka.

But on Tuesday, May 22nd, an hour after “just to be clear, the Board anticipates approving a long term Educational Master Facility Plan at the June 6th meeting,” the School Board’s rep to the Core Team went all hmm, maybe not so much. 

(Watch the meeting. Freestyling at 0:33, backtracking at 1:17:10) 

What We Know

  • Concept. Singular. Transform and Maintain are out, for now. Enhance is in. Just the concept, not the name. Three versions - K-3, K-4, and K-5.
  • Five schools reduced to 4. Yes, neighborhood schools. Rinse and relentlessly repeat.
  • Four transitions reduced to 2. Lower grades – neighborhood schools. Upper grades – Washburne. Definitely deja-vu-all-over-again. Think pre-1998. Enlighten yourself.
  • Done deals: Health and life safety items, ADA accessibility, “cosmetic updates,” safety and security enhancements, HVAC with A/C, domestic water pipe improvements, and upgraded electrical capacity.
  • Financing options – plural – out. Referendum – in

TBD...

  • School boundaries. Oh, they will change. But, how much and where? Neighborhoods, start your engines. Check out the Enrollment Balancing Project.
  • The roll-out. How, how much, and when?
  • As always, how much Future Ready is ready-enough for Winnetka? In dollars, disruption, and deliverables.
  • Referendum Fall or Spring? Looks like Spring, right now.

How Will the Core Team Tee it Up?

Six teachers, six administrators, seven residents, one School Board member. One honkin’ big decision.

Fly on the wall.

They’ll probably reboot the research for clues on grade levels and Future Ready outcomes, review and possibly revise those pesky enrollment projections to the requested "average-plus-one-standard-deviation," model how to balance enrollment with the least disruption of school boundaries, rework architectural renderings. Then give the Board at least one reason to reduce and return. Over and over again until they get it juuust right. Then block all calls and call it a day.

Which day depends on how curious and collegial the School Board is.

If We Were King

It’s been almost a year. Eventually the School Board will have to dump that waiting-for-Godot thing and make a decision. The Core Team can only tell what it knows. The residents that don’t have kids in the school system (looking at you, Significant Seventy-Five percent) can tell what will pass a referendum. Exclude them at your own peril. Right, New Trier?

What We’re Still Watching

  • Sticker shock. And a Transform reboot? The one with kindergartners and first graders in one school, and the rest in a spanking new Skokie School. No neighborhood schools. No neighborhood boundaries. No rebalancing. And full-on Future Ready.
  • Upgraded engagement. Only seven residents on the Core Team? Fuzzy math, say some. Bugged about taxation without representation, they want town halls, focus groups, and answers. Sounds good to us.
  • R.O.I. As in our kids’ futures per dollar spent. Will the folks who graphed and charted the condition of our buildings, graph and chart the academic uptick for our $100M and beyond?
  • Speaking of which… Hard numbers. Capital costs, operating costs, financing costs. With and without options. And second opinions.
  • New tax laws and possible pension reform. If the public’s appetite for high-ticket items, no matter how juicy, goes all Weight Watchers, will charitable gifts become the new ask?
  • Other taxing bodies, AKA Park District, Library Board, and Village. Their to-do’s and our tax dollars.
  • Culture. The Winnetka Way. Ubiquitous, unquantifiable, easily underestimated, and dangerous to ignore.
  • The next Core Team agenda. Always good to know if what they think they heard is what the School Board thinks it said.

Prepping for the Final

We’re still a couple of School Board meetings away. And no meeting in July. So far.

Spot Check: How Future Ready is Your Checkbook?

The future is one step closer. We’ve got numbers. And another option. And a special School-Board-on-Core-Team meeting, Tuesday, May 8th.

Marching orders, here we come.

On Tuesday, April 24th, the School Board listened to one-and-a-half-hours of Winnetka’s a great place to live, and neighborhood schools are the main reason to live here. Then did a 180 into what the Future Ready Core Team’s been up to this past month. Namely our places, their spaces, and the dollars to deliver them. For the next generation of learners. Green shades on.

(Just in case… Future Ready 36’s the name of the Winnetka School District’s Educational Master Facility Plan. Heavy on “facility,” it’s the first master plan in 20 years, and is how the District intends to make a good thing better before it has to make a bad thing good. You’re welcome.)

Form and Function, Meet Dollar Sign and Decimal

Bragging rights or side-eyes, the educational cost-per-child is going up. Cost-per-taxpayer, TBD, but this is what we know. Plus or minus 5%.

Money, money, muh-ney

Up front costs

  • Design and construction
  • Needs new money - will finance
  • $43.2M - $117.7M
  • From minimum to keep our buildings from deteriorating - upgraded electric, basic health and safety issues,etc., maybe kitchens and HVAC - to full-on Future Ready.

Cost to keep up

  • Over the next 30 years
  • Paid from the O&M and Energy budgets
  • $22.3M - $53.5M
  • Depends on how new, how many buildings, and how much Ready is future enough.

Total cost over the next 30 years

  • New and budgeted money
  • $97.0M - $167.7M

There's more, so much more. Here's your drill down.

"Finance...?"

They’re thinking referendum, lease certificates, or alternate revenue bonds.

Debt limit’s $96.9M right now. Springfield would have to OK anything more. Consolation or not. Pluses, minuses and discussion.

What We're Watching

  • Intel on how the new tax laws will impact voters' pockets and the will to spend...er "invest."
  • Contingencies for other taxing bodies' to-do lists, and because life goes on, other District 36 initiatives.
  • Reliability of the demographic projections. District 36 is only one bad private school principal away from being swamped again. And what's with that 5 years out thing?
  • The Village's culture (AKA Winnetka Way) just joined the cost and capabilities convo. How the Board will calculate its impact. More surveys? Engagement sessions?
  • The ask in real dollars per each of our personal bottom lines.

We will share.

Next?

Tuesday, May 8th. Special session of the School Board - Hubbard Woods School Auditorium. 7:00 pm.

Major sifting and winnowing, and hopefully marching orders and a tight leash for the Core Team, whose deliverables include an analysis of light, medium, and heavy options for each concept, construction costs and phasing, and better enrollment predictions.

How Future Ready are You?

They’re going to do something. You’re going to pay for it. It’s probably going to involve neighborhood schools, and it’s definitely going to involve redistricting. It’ll cut some of the transitions, you’ll get A/C and kitchens if you want them, and hopefully enough outlets for everybody to recharge – literally and figuratively.

And you're probably not going to like all of it. Do yourself a favor: Don’t wait until referendum to voice your opinion. Referenda cost real cash money. Your tax dollars.

Get up to speed.

The Future Ready website is ready and waiting with podcasts, a drill-down of the numbers and how they got them, demographics, agenda reports, research on transitions, surveys and analysis, and (yes!) more. Even the Big Picture. Smartest person in the room, here you come.

Show up.

Tuesday, May 8th. Special session of the School Board - Hubbard Woods School Auditorium. 7:00 pm. Core Team on the hot seat. Future Ready 2.0 on deck. Know where they're going.

Speak out.

Yes, it can be intimidating – but only the first time. And no, everybody else is not smarter than you. (OK, we get it - wimp out and email the Core Team or contact your favorite School Board member.)

Sign up for the District's newsletter, The Wire.

And as always, stay tuned to Spot Checks - we'll bring you stuff as it happens.

 

Spot Check: Village of Learners Being Tested

Tear down Washburne? Get rid of neighborhood schools? What will it take to give our kids the best chance at competing in a 2025 world-to-be-determined? Board Meeting Tuesday, March 20th. Raise your hand.

On Monday, March 12th, District 36 presented its vision for the future. Packed house. In two-and-a-half hours, our Village of Learners learned that our school buildings are too old, too hot - no, too cold - and their walls are bereft of outlets, that our classrooms and gyms are too small, that kids - especially pre-adolescents - don't do well when moved from place to place, that accessibility is no longer optional, and that parents have packed one sack lunch too many. Oh, and our enrollment is declining.

Our schools rank high on the list of why people move to Winnetka. But that shiny new thing on the corner of Willow and Sunset Ridge could be making our School Board's "good teachers, bad places" blues worse.

So the Board hired a consultantLaunched a master plan - called it "Future Ready" - researched, road-tripped, and recommended. Three "of the most fiscally responsible concepts" later, they're taking questions and fine tuning.

Break it Down for Me, Please?

All three concepts cover must-do’s (think accessibility, A/C, kitchens, upgraded electrical, basic health and safety issues, etc.), shift the current school boundaries, and reduce the number of transitions. Pricetag: $22.4 million - $33.7 million if you want A/C.

“Enhance” and “Transform” add Future Ready learning. Pricetag: TBD.

Maintain

  • In - neighborhood schools for K-4
  • Out - Skokie
  • In - Washburne for 5-8
  • No Future Ready curricula
  • Current class size, TBD
  • Least expensive up front, maybe the most over time because of continued maintenance issues
  • Smallest projected cost savings over time
  • 2-6 years to implement

Enhance

  • In - neighborhood schools for K-3
  • Out - Skokie (keeps auditorium for community meeting space)
  • In - Washburne for 4-8
  • Some Future Ready curricula with additions and renovations
  • Keeps current class size
  • More expensive up front, less to maintain
  • 5 years to implement

Transform

  • In - Crow Island for K-1
  • Out - Greeley and Hubbard Woods
  • Out - Washburne (keeps gyms for community sports space)
  • Added - new school at Skokie for 2-8
  • Maximizes Future Ready curricula
  • Keeps current class size
  • Most expensive up front; least over time
  • Largest projected costs savings over time
  • 3 years to implement

Drill down.

Not a School Issue - an Everybody Issue

In 2017, 38.6 cents of every one of your property tax dollars went to the Winnetka School District. Whether you have kids in District 36 schools or not. And roughly 75% of you do not.

What’s Next? You!

This is their best thinking. Now it’s time for yours.

Sift, winnow, maybe take one from column A and one from column B, and decide what you want and will pay for. Consultants will cull, spreadsheet, add dollar signs, and hand off their final best case to the School Board. School Board who will one-on-one and when they're done, tell you how and how much you'll pay for the future of District 36.

Dateline: June.

Cramming

You've got three months. The District's been working on Future Ready since July. Whether you think it's long overdue or would like to see a little more "make do," they want to hear from you. Do your homework, ask smart questions, get the answers you deserve.

Watch the Future Ready presentation [3/12/18 podcast]

Check out the Future Ready D36 website for timelines, past presentations, and to download the presentation and handout

Show up, speak up

  • School Board Meeting, Tuesday, March 20th, (yup, Election Night - but this is that important) Washburne 7:15pm

  • Outreach Session, Thursday, March 22nd, 7-8:30pm, Greeley School

Stay in touch - sign up for the District's newsletter, The Wire

Take the Survey

Stay tuned to Spot Checks - we'll bring you stuff as it happens.

And in case you're just learning about this, here's the plan for the plan. (Hint: we're in Phase 5. There is no Phase 6.)

Spot Check: Spring Training, VC-Style

Bye-bye Olympics - Hello Spring Training. The Village Council's taking pitches and swinging for the fences. Round the horn...

One Winnetka – It’s baaack. Or at least two-thirds of it. And so's the name.

On Tuesday, December 19th, reality body-slammed rhetoric. Claiming financial hardship – and a $5MM saving – the developer of One Winnetka walked his project back.

  • Gone - the Lincoln Avenue promenade and its underground parking.
  • Moved - the building, 40 feet to the East.
  • Added - a second level of underground parking adjacent to Hadley School.
  • Asked for - a portion of the Village’s east side parking lot.

The developer's no big deal, was the VC's big-enough deal, so it's back to the Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Design Review Board to see if the changes are as good for Winnetka as they are for the developer and his investors.

What's next: Developer puts how-to's and how muches to paper, presents to all boards - same time, same place. Boards chew on changes only. Personal likes, dislikes, and side-eyeing the developer’s ability to deliver, checked at the door. Then it's back to the VC for the final thumbs up or down. [2:10:00] Maybe a 3-month round-tripper.

You're right. The Planned Unit Development (PUD) Ordinance says 18 months from the January '17 preliminary approval to put shovel to dirt. Final plans were due right about now.

What to watch for: The developer says this move gets him "60% of where we need to be." [36:50] At least one Trustee is wondering the fate of the remaining 40%. 

TIF – Let’s make a deal.

While claiming to anyone who will listen that TIF (Tax Increment Financing) is still TBD, the Village is presenting its case to anyone who asks.

Namely, that downtown needs work, reserves are spoken for, and because other options mean increased taxes, TIF is the least painful way to get downtown done. [34:15]

The Village's agenda, but all taxing bodies' money. District 36, Parks, Library and New Trier School boards hired their own consultant who's not as sure as the Village's consultant that downtown’s in need of that much of a fix.

District 36 defined "that much" as $2,000 per $10,000 tax bill on a 23-year TIF.

New Trier defined it as "a few dollars in the first year, and up to $13-$14-$15” per $10,000 tax bill" [54:00] on an 8-9 year TIF.

What's next: Taxing bodies tell the Village what it will take to TIF.

  • New Trier's in at 8-9 years and $10-$14 million in revenues, plus money for new students.
  • District 36's still thinking. TIF, no TIF, or TIF with benefits.
  • Parks and Library are supposedly dealing. Just not talking.

When the deals (AKA intergovernmental agreements or IGAs) are done, the Joint Review Board (JRB) reviews, votes and tosses it back to the VC. More talking. More voting.

What to watch for: If TIF gets the final nod, the JRB will make sure what it agreed to is what the Village ends up with.

TIF me again?

Stormwater – Now you see it, soon you won’t.

Well 92% of it. Promising "significant relief" to 474 of Winnetka's most waterlogged homes, [14:20] the Village is working on IGAs with the Park District, District 36, and New Trier School District, and "a couple of private property owners."

Everyone's "committed," [11:52] but right now, only New Trier’s dealing. Looking to trade reno’d playfields for more storage which means that 92% of our stormwater problem will be underground or in the Forest Preserve [18:05]. Quid pro perfect, say great horned owlets and dog walkers.

Up next: Park and District 36 IGA's, one-on-ones with private property owners, back to the dugout to see if what everybody wants looks anything like what everybody agreed to, then cost out, bid out to one or two who’ve actually done this, and back to the VC for financing, how-to’s and a timeline. Tinker. Evers. Chance.

Spring for stakeholders, early summer for financials, and late September-to-early-November for a Forest Preserve confab. Druthers.

What to watch for: No bells, no whistles. "Except for a few water features on the 9-hole, this is an infrastructure project, plain and simple.” [17:00] Accent on the plain, not so much with the simple.   

DMP - Heating up.

It’s all about hotspots. And IDOT.

On Monday, Feburary 26th, the Downtown Master Plan Steering Committee presented its Streetscape and Signage Plan. Not to be confused with the TIF infrastructure wannado’s, or the Streetscape Plan that was nixed eight years ago.

This one ID’s “hot spots” – pockets of activity on East and West Elm – and the Elm Street Bridge and Green Bay Road. Think, crosswalks, lighting, signs to tell you where you are and where you’re going, business directory and community kiosks, seating, bike racks, and possibly new trees and planting.

What’s next: The 2020 Comprehensive Plan (the one that makes Winnetka Winnetka) was big on residential, not so much on Downtown. So the VC created a Task Force, OK'd the Downtown Master Plan, and budgeted for some low-hanging fruit. Also called for a look-see at new retail and new zoning to make it happen. Which means a reboot - and a new name - for the 2020 Comp Plan. Chicken meet egg.

Got a timeline?

What to watch for: VC says the new streetscape needs to be good enough to make us proud - not so good that it can't be made better if zoning and the Comp Plan have other ideas.

It's your turn. Batter up!

  • Vote! Who you vote for is your business. That you vote is everyone's. Early voting is on. Election day is March 20th. Check here for all the voter info you need.
  • Take the Village's Garbage Collection Survey. It may not be a big deal in the dead of winter, but come Spring, you'll probably wish you'd taken this pitch. You have until March 23rd. What's this about?
  • Need background on OW, TIF, Stormwater, or the DMP? Check out past Spot Checks.