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District 113 Officials School City Council on Referendum

Board members aren't the only ones at session to raise questions about $133 million plan.

Representatives of Township High School District 113 came to the Highland Park City Council meeting on Monday to explain the  on the April 5 ballot for capital improvements to Deerfield high schools. 

Like all voters, and council members had questions about the ballot proposal. 

School board members Bonnie Shlensky and Harvey Cohen arrived with Assistant Superintendent of Finance Barry Bolek to present materials and explain some elements of the referendum during a 50-minute session of the council’s Committee of the Whole before the regularly scheduled meeting.

When they finished, representatives of the --one pushing for and the other fighting against the proposal--addressed the council as well. 

Cohen began the presentation explaining why needs had arisen to an and why so much of the money was going to physical education and athletic projects. 

“Schools today have needs that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” he said. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, women’s athletics didn’t exist. Now they must be on a parity [with the men].” 

Councilman Jim Kirsch said constituents had been asking him why a building that received a new roof in 2001 needed another one today. Kirsch also wanted to know why 44 percent of the funding was being spent on the athletic department. 

Bolek acknowledged new roofs were necessary in 2001 on two buildings that were built nearly 100 years ago, and it was equally necessary to demolish those structures and begin anew.

“We had to do the new roof. We also had to do asbestos removal,” Bolek explained.

He said the buildings had become obsolete with clay pipes and other infrastructure deficiencies that made a complete rehab unrealistic. 

Shlensky and Cohen were quick to explain facilities that many labeled as athletic were being used for physical education as well as for sports teams.

“The gyms and pools at both schools are in use every period, every day--from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., five days a week,” Cohen said. 

Councilwoman and mayoral candidate wanted to know why she had heard some people describe the referendum as a $133 million project while others put the amount at $200 million or more. 

“This [the bonds being sold to finance the projects] is similar to a mortgage,” Bolek said. "When it is all paid off, it will equal $200 million or more, depending on the interest rates.”

The district's assistant superintendent of finance then emphasized the principal was the $133 million number. 

Councilman Steve Mandel, who attended the meeting by teleconference, was concerned about the amount of property taxes that residents would be required to pay. 

Bolek explained the school district was in the process of retiring existing debt. If all debt were retired, a person with a $300,000 home would have an annual tax reduction of $254. Should the referendum succeed, the existing taxes will be necessary to service the debt. No tax increase is anticipated, he said. 

Former Councilman and former Moraine Township Assessor , who is one of the leaders of Education First, a citizens' group opposing the referendum, told the group he thought the proposal consisted of a list of wants rather than a list of needs. 

“If they [District 113 officials] come back with needs, I’m committed to support that,” Koukos said.

He is also skeptical of the motives for putting the proposal on the April 5 ballot. “They put it [the bond plan] in April 2011 rather than March 2012 so the opposition wouldn’t have time to organize.” 

, one of the forces behind Citizens Aiming for Responsible Enhancements (CARE), an advocacy group supporting the referendum, noted the urgency of the projects for both financial and structural reasons. 

“We want this now because of the low interest rates,” Heineman said.

“This is not just about the buildings but what’s around them and under them. You can’t really see what’s underneath … like clay pipes,” he added, referring to the aging structures.

For their part, Belsky and the City Council urged Cohen and Shlensky to make the facilities available to the public.

“If you want support, open the facilities to the public,” said Belsky, who is not seeking re-election to lead Highland Park.

His view was echoed by Councilwoman , another mayoral candidate and former president of the District 112 school board.

chicago lampoon March 18, 2011 at 10:31 PM
This isn't really about athletic upgrades. It is about a district squandering its resources on ridiculously extravagant teachers and administrators salaries -- which, with their gold-plated benefits, are 80% of the district's costs: http://chicagolampoon.blogspot.com/2011/03/highland-parks-stinking-rich-teachers.html
Harry Steindler March 18, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Interesting - don't know who put the lampoon site together - FYI your list of salaries is for all District 113 professional employees not just HPHS teachers. Also - these employees are not unionized, so there is no union contract. Wonder how much you and the rest of the district residents earn - let's publish that list and compare before we start judging whether these people are making too much or too little.
Susie Millie March 19, 2011 at 02:23 AM
How can you trust anyone who has a tag that says 'improvements without a tax rate increase' when this is simply false. The EAV (property values) continue to drop. Let's do the math. Interest rates are 5%, you want $5000/year, you put away $100,000 and you are set. However, if you assets fall to $70,000, and you still need $5000/year you will need to earn/charge more than 5%. Ask D113 if they can guarantee in writing taxes will not go up and they will explain the same thing to you. So, as property values decrease, the funding will increase your taxes. When I have an employee who lies to me, I know they have lied before and will lie again, and often, if it is serious the only recourse is termination for cause. I think the slogan 'improvements without a tax rate increase' is simply false or made by people who don't understand. Even Mike Brenner, a well known builder in HP wrote an editorial in Pioneer Press against the referendum.
David Greenberg March 19, 2011 at 03:41 AM
Just some thoughts for consideration: * The Illinois State Board of Education puts out a salary survey on a regular basis. They break out salaries by degree level, geographic region, and school size. If you look at the NE Region, for our school population, then compare with the salary matrix available from D113 - you find that we're about 17% higher than our peers. We, and our peers are in the "Top 10", so why are we paying more? * The "Social Compact" between Educators and the Public was that Educators gave up some earning power by working in the Public sector instead of the Private sector, so in return we gave them a pension to help take care of them in their golden years. However, now that many are earning at the level of the Private sector (if not exceeding it in some cases), shouldn't there be a corresponding decrease in benefits funded by the Public since they haven't really given up any earning power?
Harry Steindler March 19, 2011 at 04:24 AM
Are you aware that the district's plan includes assumptions that the EAV will decrease the next two years?

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