Simply Uninformed or Intentionally Misleading? Get the facts on the 113 Referendum

In an ideal world, arguments – for and against the District 113 referendum – would be made based on reason and fact and voters would be better informed by this debate.

There is much that has been written already in support of the upcoming District 113 referendum.  In an ideal world, arguments – for and against the referendum – would be made based on reason and fact and voters would be better informed by this debate.  But that’s not the approach that the anti-tax group, “Education First”, has taken to oppose the referendum.

In a document entitled “Referendum Fact Sheet” that is floating around town, “Education First” makes a number of incorrect, misleading and even outright false statements in opposition to the referendum.  They call these statements “facts.”  I challenge our community to judge whether this group is simply uninformed or intentionally misleading.  

For a list of actual facts to show that their statements have been debunked, you can start here and here, but let’s look at some of their claims:

1) The plan will “substantially increase your real estate taxes” – even if you assume that no work needs to be done (an entirely ridiculous assumption), the total cost of the referendum is anywhere from 2-2.5% of your total property tax bill, depending upon your community.  And the increase over 2012 will be less than 1% (a very liberal definition of “substantial). 

2) For a taxpayer with a $600,000 home, “it will cost an additional $195 [in taxes] per year for the next 5 years to rebuild $25 million in reserves.” This is 100% wrong.  There will be no additional taxes required.

3) The plan includes $6.4 million in “uncommitted contractor adjustments” – the steering committee, architects, and builders have clarified this.  “Value engineering” is a commonly used technique to reduce costs, not some attempt to hide the true cost of the project.  See the cost analysis here

4) D113 has “not conducted” an analysis of operational costs: this is misleading, fact-checked here

5) Ed1st says “15% fewer children age 10 and under in Highland Park and Deerfield.” While the point of the proposal is to upgrade and repair the schools (not add capacity), it’s important to note that District 113 had increased enrollment for the 2012-2013 year (even though their previous analysis showed an expected decrease) and in the future forecasts flat or increased enrollment. District 109 is also showing stable enrollment in the near future (see p.49 here), and District 112’s 2012 enrollment was above the average for the 10 years prior (see p.113 here).  Essentially, Ed1st presents numbers that assume that as “empty-nesters” and an aging population moves out (or passes away), then no families with children will buy their homes.  Is that what you are seeing in your neighborhood? 

6) And now, the grand illusion, their list of “new local taxing entities looking to increase our real estate taxes”.  I’ll address some of them:

  • "District 109 (covering the Deerfield elementary and middle schools) is discussing a $168 million expansion.” Completely wrong, twisted way out of context from a presentation to D109 - architects estimated this as the cost of major reconstruction of ALL D109 schools.   Is this actually being considered? No. A D109 administrator called this idea “ridiculous” (even the presenters identified this option as not viable, due to “physical constraints” and “lack of land” at the schools).
  • “Deerfield Public Library”: voted on and approved by almost 60% of voters in a 2010 referendum, and is now expected to cost taxpayers 10-14% less than expected
  • “Highland Park Water Treatment Project - $30 million”.  Not true – there will not be a real estate tax increase to pay for it.  And costs are shared across multiple communities that benefit from HP’s water.
  • “School District 112- currently exploring facilities expansion”: twisting and misleading, again - D112 has laid out the real facts, focused on cutting costs, here
  • “Rosewood Beach – HP Park District facilities improvement”: no tax increases here either.  In fact, the PDHP recently announced they would keep taxeslevel even as they lowered their levy previously.
  • “Waukegan Courthouse upgrade - $100 million” – nope, paid for with existing funds from Lake County, whose board has cut
    their budget since 2009, and froze their tax levy

“A more affordable plan”?  The lynchhpin in their diversion.  Their “plan” includes an inflatable dome at DHS, attempting to duplicate the excellent College of Lake County vocational-technical program (serving 19 high schools) in one HPHS building, kicking the can down the road on the 50-year-old pools, and is built on un-vetted estimates and (I kid you not) newspaper articles. 

Who do you really trust?  Compare their “plan” with the transparent project designed over 18 months, by community volunteers (including opponents of the 2011 referendum), using professional architects and
construction engineers, which was subsequently unanimously adopted by the Board of Education.

Don’t be fooled – our community answered the call, developed a “better plan”, and we must vote “yes”.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Walter White February 20, 2013 at 02:04 PM
To answer the question posed in your title, it is the latter. It's a typical campaign tactic, but in this case it's thinly veiled. If they throw many negatives at the wall, they hope some will stick with voters. Too bad they didn't focus on the real issues in my mind, namely the concern that continued mismanagement of funds will cause us to do this all over again sooner than expected. In the future, make do with the funds you have. Budget for replacements NOW, not when the walls are falling down. I may vote no but not for the reasons this E1 "anti-tax" group is pushing.
Richard H Heineman Jr February 20, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Walter White, I agree that the statements by the E1 anti-tax fanatics are intentionally misleading, but I am concerned that you do not have a correct view of the district’s money management. Over the past 5 years the district has worked to save money where possible and better utilize the funds available. One thing that has not gotten very much attention is the creation of a capital expense budget. They have gradually increased the amount available for replacements and capital projects. The amount in this year’s budget is $3.5 million and the district plans to expand this by $500,000 each year. The money will come from the continued careful management of the district’s spending. This is the source of the $25 million that the district is kicking into the current $114 million plan. At the end of the 5 years the district will have $6 to $7 million each year to continue to maintain and improve the facilities. Note that this is separate from the normal maintenance budget reserved for normal upkeep of the facilities. They should be applauded for the careful use of the community’s money.
RB February 20, 2013 at 04:50 PM
I agree things need to be repaired and upgraded. I also agree that money has not necessarily been spent wisely in the past, and I'd like some guarantee of better future management of resources. Point 2 above is not 100% false, it should be made clear that without the referendum our taxes should go down after some bonds are paid off. Deerfield residents get taxed by many entities like the Park District which seems to spend money like they have it to spare, the Village that builds unnecessary underpasses, and the Township that I've never figured out that layer of Government. So, with that in mind some residents may be hesitant to add a few hundred dollars to their tax bill knowing that other agencies have not necessarily spent wisely and will be coming at us for more in the future. A hundred here and a hundred there adds up. It does hinge upon showing responsible plans for the future so we don't get in this shape again.
Bringin' Down Briarwood February 20, 2013 at 05:10 PM
And that's the real question with this group, RB, "who do you really trust?" I wish they would have brought some substance to the table behind their "let's get to work" message that was immediately changed two days after the referendum. Opposing views were good for the process, but not ones that had no interest in a solution. Instead, strong voices in this group quickly quit early in the process, stomping and pouting to any newspaper that would listen about how nobody listened to them (in other words, they were ineffective in building a consensus.) Are these really people whose ideas you want to follow? In the meantime, other loud voices of opposition such as David Greenberg worked through the entire process to try to actively have some input. I have never been a fan of David's ideas on this topic, but he was in there plugging away throughout the ENTIRE process and showed dedication to the community. For that, he has my COMPLETE respect and his oppositional view were probably a great help.
Walter White February 20, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Well Rick, my view is correct by definition, because there were not sufficient funds set aside to maintain and upgrade the facilities. Sorry, but I need more than an increased focus over just the last 5 years to allay my concerns. It's great that they have carefully used the community's money over the last 5 years but what about over the last 25?
Paul Smith February 20, 2013 at 05:41 PM
The E1st crowd is showing their true colors. After the last referendum they asked the school board to go back to the drawing board but even though the board did exactly that with considerable involvement from community members, they are opposing these much needed repairs and upgrades. The E1st group just seems cheap and willing to use misinformation to block this important project.
Bryce Robertson February 20, 2013 at 06:06 PM
RB: Point 2 is false. It was specifically referring to "rebuilding the $25MM in reserves" - money which is not, in fact, reserves. See other articles on Patch for more info, but the gist of it is that the $25MM is money allocated in the yearly budget, and as such, is not being "rebuilt" - nor will it cause an increase in taxes. On the flipside, if the money was not allocated for these capital expenditures in the budget, it would be allocated elsewhere - taxes still would not be decreasing. Nobody is debating that taxes would not increase if the referendum does not pass - see point 1.
RB February 20, 2013 at 06:14 PM
You're right that we never seem to see taxes go down! Minor point and not a lot of money, if we get what's needed. I want assurance that maintenance is funded so we don't got through this again. Thanks.
Richard H Heineman Jr February 20, 2013 at 06:43 PM
Walter, do you seriously want to blame the current board and administration for mistakes that were made over a 20 year period before they were in office? The district is very well managed now and the you can believe that the community, including myself, will be watching closely to make sure that this continues.
Bryce Robertson February 20, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Maintenance and capital improvements are two separate line items in the budget. Regardless of what was done with the $25M over 5 years, there is still a proper amount of money set aside for maintenance in accordance with the new Master Plan. There are also buffers to allow for increases/decreases depending on needs over the length of the plan. This board is very committed to being fiscally prudent, and has laid the steps in place to ensure that we will be in good shape down the road.
Walter White February 20, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Look, I've asked the question about future budgeting. Ken and Bryce pointed me to a website with a bunch of documents but no explanation. That tends to indicate there is no such budget. If you can show me a district budget which clearly shows funds being put away for future repair and replacement, that would be great. I don't have time to sift through 500 page documents, so if you can quote me filenames and page numbers, I'll take a look at the data.
Bryce Robertson February 20, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Walter, you find me any company with a budget the size of District 113's (or larger) that has their budget set out at least ten years down the road with specific amounts, and I will sit and go through every document. What you're asking to see, though, is unreasonable. You talk about how you trust those involved in the process, except when you don't. You ask a question, and when you get your answer, you pull the goalposts back and ask another. It's getting old. The answer to your question is that the board has come out and publicly stated they're putting money away for future projects. There are capital improvement line items and maintenance line items, which have been discussed at length all over the Patch (and in every community presentation - which, of course, I assume you've attended, since you want to be involved.) Now, you're either going to have to trust the district's statement, or stop asking for documents you know don't exist, because no good management team would ever state they can accurately predict a budget 10+ years down the road. PS: Check out page 24 here (http://www.dist113.org/depts/businessoffice/Document%20Library/Fiscal%20Year%202012.pdf) and page 28 here (http://www.dist113.org/Documents/Board%20of%20Education%20Presentation%201%2014%2013.pdf). The first document will show you some of the $$ going away, and the second addresses long term maintenance plans and how they'll be prioritized and acted upon.
Bryce Robertson February 20, 2013 at 07:52 PM
PS - see my comment to Walter above - the second link, page 28, describes how maintenance issues are addressed under the new plan. (Full disclosure: many of the new methods and plans are being implemented now and the referendum plan has no bearing on their effectiveness, only on reducing their cost).
Walter White February 20, 2013 at 07:58 PM
Why don't you go back to your chemistry homework and let the adults worry about this. Don't tell me what to worry about and what not to worry about. There is tax money coming out of my pocket, how about yours? This is what happens anytime anyone questions the referendum. One of the chosen few supporters gets snippy and, of course, really doesn't answer the question. Keep shouting down skeptics of the plan and see how that plays in the community. So now I'm really done. It's getting old.
Bryce Robertson February 20, 2013 at 08:03 PM
Funny, you've been willing to engage me up until this point, and "shout me down" for not providing the answer to your question. Now, when I do provide you with answers you ask for, and challenge the validity of your question, you drag my age into this. Classic. I'm giving you the answers you asked for. If you have a problem with me personally, then feel free to air that to dry. Also, last I checked, this bond payment will be over a period of 25 years. Odds are pretty good that I'll be paying property taxes in HP by that point - so yeah, this involves me. And finally, I never once used the word worry or anything of the like in my post. You, on the other hand, tell me not to worry about this, but then turn around and say that I shouldn't tell you what to worry about. Nice double standard. Oh, and by the way, I'm a Finance major, not a Chemistry major, so I have a pretty good handle on how this affects both the District's finances as well as those of its tax base. Ask any member of the Finance Committee, which I spent my time on - they'll be glad to tell you that I understood everything just fine.
Walter White February 20, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Well you will learn a couple things about corporate finance once you get out of school. Ten year projections are routine.
Bryce Robertson February 20, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Last I saw, you asked for "budgets", not "projections" (see your comment at the top of this article). Now, the district follows a 10 year maintenance plan, as mentioned on page 28 of my second link presentation. Clarify what you want, and I will see if I can find it. Be specific. Do you want maintenance projections or do you want capital improvement projections? Do you want projections at all, or specific budget line items? I can't answer your question if I don't know for certain what you would like.
MM February 20, 2013 at 09:18 PM
Walter, even if I agreed with you about District 113’s mismanagement, is voting “No” really the proper response? According to you, decades of mismanagement shouldn’t be rewarded with additional funds. Do you just want to leave the current facilities the way they are? Who is hurt by not addressing these needs? It isn’t the administrators – their jobs are safe no matter what. It’s our students, first and foremost, and then it’s my property value that is impacted. Why would someone with kids buy my house in D113 when our community doesn’t care enough about the schools to keep them up? Why wouldn’t they buy in Lake Forest, Stevenson, Glenbrook North, etc.?
Ken Robertson February 20, 2013 at 09:48 PM
"Walter" - there's tax money coming out of my pocket also, just like everyone else who supports the referendum. My kids won't see the benefits to the schools as students, but we will see the benefit to the community. Bryce represents the reason we need to do this - he wants to come back and live in HP, and so the future of 113 means something to him personally. Rather than post anonymously on a board, he got involved throughout high school, with the referendum (both in 2011 and over the 2 years since), local businesses, Ravinia, NovaHP, local elections...He's my son, so I'm biased obviously, but at least he's willing to put his name on his statements, and you'll find those that worked with him on all of these projects will back him up for being open-minded and willing to dive in and get educated. So, nobody will begrudge you your opinion, but making snide remarks while hiding behind "Walter White" (and any other aliases you might use here) provides the readers here a true picture of who is the mature party in the discussion.
David Greenberg February 20, 2013 at 11:29 PM
I can tell you that one point which rang clear with everyone (at least on the Study Group I was a member of) was: "We're not giving you a dime if you don't get the maintenance issues under control. We don't want to be here again in 10 years..." The District heard us loud and clear. They've put a maintenance ticket software package in place to track issues (I'd like to see the tickets posted automatically to their website so we can track progress as a Community...). They've started refining maintenance processes, and they're setting aside funds for what's necessary. Ultimately, it's going to be up to all of us, the people of these communities, and the District - to ensure that things continue in a positive direction. But so far, I believe we're starting off in the right direction.
David Greenberg February 20, 2013 at 11:40 PM
Thank you BDB. I've always said that the schools have needs, and they should be met. In my opinion, the previous plan wasn't well-thought out and was too expensive. After 18+ months of hard work by all involved on all sides of the fence - we have a plan that's better, and even more so - we have a plan to work through issues for the next 50+ years. Will it require more work, more analysis, more refinement? Sure. Is it perfect? Nope, but no plan ever is, or will be. They're living documents. I want to see the hard work and partnership continue between the Community and the District so that we can bring this plan in early and under-budget, or at the very least - on-time and within budget. What we've achieved thus far as a community is nothing short of remarkable, a new level of understanding, and the growing of trust and transparency. Have there been some bumps in the road? Yep. But we need to continue to move forward. If we don't get these projects underway now, it's only going to cost us more later because the needs aren't going away. Additionally, I want to see us get the needs met so we can move on to improving an already great education. We still need to hash out that whole "21st Century Education" thing and how we're going to help our already remarkable students perform ever better than they do already.
Carl Lambrecht February 21, 2013 at 05:38 PM
It was suggested to make a Forensic Audit of District 113. Two board members Voted yes. Five voted no. Someone stated that it would not be good to display our dirty launder in public. Yet we the public should know. Carl Lambrecht, 847 432 8255, lambrecht@laurelindustries.com
Carl Lambrecht February 21, 2013 at 05:46 PM
The Governor salary is about $177,000. The Regional Superintendent of Schools salary is about $120,000. If we correct all the salaries above $120,000. We will have the money without a referendum. Carl Lambrecht 847 432 8255, lambrecht@laurelindustries.com
Bringin' Down Briarwood February 22, 2013 at 05:24 AM
"Who do we REALLY trust?" Maybe we can start with someone who can address the topics realistically and stick to the topics on the table.
Carl Lambrecht February 22, 2013 at 11:46 AM
"Non-Productive Legislative Restraints" Carl Lambrecht 847 432 8255, lambrecht@laurelindustries.com
Bringin' Down Briarwood February 22, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Blah, blah, blah, wonk, wonk, wonk. Carl Lambrecht 847 432 8255, lambrecht@laurelindustries.com
Carl Lambrecht February 23, 2013 at 04:41 AM
Do you know what "Non-Productive Legislative Restraints" means? Carl Lambrecht 847 432 8255, lambrecht@laurelindustries.com


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