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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.

Miles J. Zaremski March 16, 2011 at 12:22 PM
I would like to know why the proponents of the Dist. 113 referendum do not include a discussion of the needs of those attending Dist. 112 schools? After all, the only "banker" in town that will fund either, or both, school districts is us taxpayers. With Dist 112 bleeding red ink of about $2.7M or so, surely its administrators will be calling upon the "banker" for funds in short order as Dist. 113 officials are doing so now. And the "bank" does not have that much money to fully fund both referendums, including the amount presently being requested for Dist 113. If one of the proponents can respond here, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
phylis bagan March 16, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Our elementary schools are the bedrock of all education. How can we disregard this factor of 112 in a decision concerning years of debt regarding the referendum on the April ballot for 113? We must budget ALL of our educational needs, and yes...support our schools ALL of our schools, and please vote 'no' now so that we can rethink, retool and present a plan on the 2012 ballot for all .
Donald Yosef Marcus March 16, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Thank you for bring the $113 million into real terms of accountability that we are looking more towards $200 million. The improvements are for the 21 st century is a glorified country club plan not suited for a public school. I feel that this rushed over priced rennovations plan is nothing more than ripping off the hard working tax payers of Highland Park. We should have a 5 or maybe a 10 yr plan to consider. Not a 1 year plan thrown down our throats ! Take the 100 million plus bonds that we voted on & paid for the open lands a yr or two & put those funds into this referendum !
Larry Jones March 16, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Phylis: Probably the first time I totally agree with you
David Greenberg March 16, 2011 at 07:06 PM
There's been lots of unanswered questions about the Referendum and other less costly options that weren't considered. The District's homework is not complete. But for the sake of argument, IF (and that's a big IF) the referendum does somehow pass, here's some questions for consideration: * Where will construction trailers be located? * Where will construction materials be located? * Will temporary classrooms be needed during construction, and if so, where will they be located? * The proposed field house will eat into the parking lot. More spaces lost forever. Will an underground or above-ground parking structure be needed? What about aesthetic impact to neighborhood? * No one's talked about how much more power, gas, or water the new buildings will need? * Backup generator: Where's it going to be sited? What kind of fuel? How often does it get tested? * Environmental Impacts: Dust. Fumes. Vibration. Noise. Dirt in the streets? Asbestos? What's getting recycled, what's added to landfills? * Quality of Life Impact: Wrecking balls, backup alerts, loud engines. How many shifts worked? Location of crane for installing structural steel? Impact to existing trees? Damage to sidewalks, curbes, street? Traffic issues from parking a crane in street? * Security: Will this project be an attractant to the criminal elements? See more details at: www.davidgreenberg.org
Beth March 16, 2011 at 08:58 PM
Now is the time to improve our schools. Rates are low. Construction costs are low. Just because D112 doesn't have a referendum on the table is no reason not to help D113. D112 and D113 are separate entities. If we wait for D112, we will miss this opportunity and risk higher interest rates and greater construction costs. The infrastructure issues at D113 aren't going away. If you are thinking genuinely about the well-being of our elementary-aged students, you must vote "Yes" for the referendum. Why short-change them twice?
David Greenberg March 17, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Why short-change them at all? D112 and D113 ARE separate entities, but they, like all taxing bodies on our bills, need to start cooperating and stop acting in a vacuum as if they're the only taxing body around. If D113 had been more prudent in their plan and focused on necessities instead of wants, there'd be money left on the table for D112, D109... If we vote NO on the referendum, D113 can take their existing plan, re-focus on needs, come back with a better plan AND have a long-term plan as a goal. One which not only fulfills their needs, but also recognizes the fact that without the feeder elementary districts they won't have many (or any) students to serve, and leaves money on the table for those Districts to ask for in order to meet their needs of educating their children.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther March 17, 2011 at 01:19 AM
David: The first two questions you raised are up to the contractor, once one is selected. They are solely in control of the site and assume all liability for the same. As far as power, gas and water, my assumption, as a professional, is that with these improvements more electrical service will be required, which is necessary to support the additional technology in today's learning environments. There should be the same or less water and gas requirements due to improved efficiency of systems. My assumption would be that the generator would be run by natural gas and I believe there already is a generator at Highland Park. The "quality of life" and environmental impacts are regulated by the City and Village respectively. There are adequate safeguards to the neighborhood. The parking issue is a red herring. first, the impact is primarily the parking for the seniors. I haven't counted spaces, but it would appear that parking would come out about even, depending on final design. One comment. You seem to forget that there are two schools and five communities involved in this referendum. Outside of the "storage" issue, I haven't seen or heard much about issues with Deerfield HS's proposal. Maybe that's because they aren't as easy for you to talk negatively about?
Donna March 17, 2011 at 02:01 AM
It has been stated before - but bears to be repeated - wants and needs are subjective. Not everyone is going to agree on the same thing as what is needed or wanted. For the same tax rate that I am paying now I will be able to get everything to make the high schools better equipped for the 21st century. What more can a responsible taxpayer want. District 112 is its own entity just as District 109 is in Deerfield. It is up to their board to figure out what is needed and how it is going to be paid for. We live in a wonderful community and there is no reason that any student should be short changed.
Gerry Meister March 17, 2011 at 02:52 AM
Miles and All: District 113 Board will never have a discussion on the NEED vs WANTS It operates with no transparency. Those folks including myself have asked many questions and received NO truthful responses other than blank stares when discussing the issues with the Board members and the superintendent It is true that there is significant building operation/ maintenance/ construction issues in both schools. , but they can be alleviated if the right program of NEEDS can defined rather that wishful and costly WANTS. We have asked the superintendent to debate the issues but he is hiding and refuses to do so. That is how much your tax dollars mean to the Board and the Superintendent. SHAMEFUL
Beth March 17, 2011 at 03:08 AM
Donna is 100% correct. Needs and wants are subjective. I have enjoyed previous comments (to another referendum article) as many others explained their opinion so well: Dan Jenks - First, is there a significant investment need at the HPHS? Clearly, the answer is yes. There are immediate concerns – drainage, HVAC, water damage, plumbing, windows – and there are longer-term concerns – space usage, layout, classroom size, athletic facilities, technology upgrades, reduced maintenance costs, etc. Jim - I for one am getting extremely tired of Mr. Greenberg continually telling everyone his definition of wants and needs. I personally feel 80% of what the schools are asking for are needs and if it includes 20% of some nice to haves and my taxes will not go up from what I am used to paying I am all for it….And if Dist 112 can come up with a plan to renovate their schools that will not increase their portion of my tax bill like Dist 113 has I will vote for it as well... I don't believe he realizes how counter productive his (David Greenberg’s) numerous posts are. His constant harping on wants and needs etc. etc. etc. has actually pushed me off the fence to the YES side and he is definitely crossed off my list of possible candidates to vote for in the Dist 113 board election as I believe he would be a disruptive force who would never debate in good faith and compromise on solutions.
Beth March 17, 2011 at 03:10 AM
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther - Finally, a significant portion of this project is infrastructure to support basic functions expected in today's educational environment and future improvements. All of this will not go away and only get more expensive by waiting both in financing and rising material costs. Think of it as getting a bargain on the "wants", which may not be a want after all. Paul Smith - I have seen first hand how much this project is needed. Some portions of HPHS are embarrassing and completely inadequate. The question of needs vs. wants is purely subjective…All of the proposed spending will improve the 2 schools. We could have a never ending debate over which improvements are more valuable than others but that is not productive. Voting no on this referendum is just kicking the problem down the road a few years. The improvements will have to be done sometime - delaying the inevitable is short sighted. Doing them now will take advantage of low interest rates and favorable construction costs. My kids will not benefit from these improvements but I see it as my responsibility as a member of the community to fund them and I would encourage everyone to do the same….Does D112 have a proposed capital improvement plan? I'd be interested in seeing it so that I could compare it to the D113 plan. But I'm not aware of one, so I will support the D113 plan and let a D112 plan stand on its own merits when the time comes for that.
David Greenberg March 17, 2011 at 03:12 AM
Walter - DHS has more space to locate trailers and materials. The campus is also better separated from the surrounding neighborhood so while there will undoubtedly be some issues, they will by the very nature of the site be less than those at HPHS. HPHS - trailers could really only go in two spots: 1) In the field on St Johns/Vine Ave or in the parking lot area. Same with materials. That will eat up parking spaces for the duration of the project. In similar projects handled by Wight & Co - it's led to parking space lotteries. Where will the rest of the vehicles be expected to park? Will more students need to take the bus? Will that lead to increased transportation costs? You and I can make all the assumptions we want about generator fuel, but in the draft infrastructure plan for technology a generator was referenced. I'd like to not make an assumption and know what we're talking about. Quality of life and environmental impacts should be regulated by the City/Village - but the District has a habit of claiming they're exempt. Sometimes they 'agree' to abide by certain regulations, and not others. It behooves us to discuss these matters long before we're in the thick of things. I have not forgotten that there are 2 schools, 5 communities (Dfld, HP, Bannockburn, Highwood, Riverwoods). Deerfield is a younger property and has fewer issues than HP. As for the "storage" issue, it's not the only one - it's one of several.
Susie Millie March 17, 2011 at 03:14 AM
What if we voted no and got together and determined we can do a great project for $20 million? This is what I believe after talking to professionals who know more than educators and consultants who have a vested income in the outcome. I urge anyone thinking about voting yes to talk to a friend or relative anywhere and ask ballpark costs and you will see this is a plan that can be accomplished for a fraction. Try and calculate the cost per square foot and then calculate the same for your own home and you can prove to yourself this point.
David Greenberg March 17, 2011 at 03:16 AM
In general yes. But as with all things - "it depends". I think a leaking roof is a need, not a want. A bigger swimming pool that costs $17 million, when the existing pool could be repaired for thousands sounds like a want to me. Yes D112 and D109 are their own entities, but I believe we're all long past the time when the various taxing bodies can operate in a vacuum. It's incumbent upon them all to look for synergies to cut costs, and to at least make each other aware of the other's long-term plans, so they don't overlap and tax us all out of our homes. The students notwithstanding, the taxpayers also have needs and should not be shortchanged by being overburdened with an ever-growing and onerous tax bill. The Districts' have wants and needs, and those need to be balanced with the needs of the taxpayers.
David Greenberg March 17, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Good Faith: "...in accordance with standards of honesty, trust, sincerity, etc.". Although it may differ from yours, I've maintained a consistent position, how is that not honest? I've explained how I agree that there are needs, but believe that there are too many wants (you just agreed that 20% are wants), and want to see a balance struck between needs and wants, so how is that not sincere? My posts are mainly in response to questions or issues posed by others. The persons unwilling to compromise on solutions are the District, School Board, and the pro-referendum group. I, others, and Education First have all said that we agree there are needs to be met, but that the current plan is too expensive and we believe that a better plan can be crafted. Isn't that asking for a compromise? Education First has asked CARE and the Superintendent to debate the issues publicly. They've refused. The District's financial consultant was seen unpacking and passing out pro-referendum information. That seems like a conflict of interest to me. Your tax bill will go down in 2-3 years when the current bonds are paid off. That's a fact. Extending it out for another 20 years means you pay more in taxes than you would have if there hadn't been any additional bonds sold. Couching it as a "no tax rate" increase isn't fooling anyone, and seems less than honest to me.
David Greenberg March 17, 2011 at 03:27 AM
D112 is working on their plan. My understanding is that they want to make sure it's on-target and they didn't feel it was right to ask for that money in this economic climate.
phylis bagan March 17, 2011 at 10:07 AM
People choose to live in our communities for the wonderful education (from ALL schools), the safe environment, and the beauty of our areas. It would be a very bad mistake to disenfranchise one schools district while committing almost a quarter of a billion dollars to another. Would you knowingly cut services to the fire department because the police department came to you 1st with a plan that would be extremely costly? No ...you would look at ALL of the needs coming up and evaluate carefully a plan to benefit all citizens. We the people are the obligated payee... One question does remain unanswered. Mr. Heineman (as the cochair of CARE) has stated that potential buyers will look with disdain at our highschools. Most buyers are young, and look at the elementary schools. How do you knowingly discount those needs? Again vote NO now for a reworked plan for ALL schools in 2012
Beth March 17, 2011 at 11:33 AM
Phyllis, You already know that the fire department and police department are funded by the City and under one budget. So your analogy is completely off point. At the LWV when the question of consolidation of D112 & D113 was posed, the responses from the candidates overwhelmingly did not support this idea - too costly, too time consuming and takes away from the true focus of the Board which is the business of educating our community's children - which, by the way, they are doing a tremendous job of. If you take the time to coordinate the two school districts, you will take the focus away from education and miss this perfect opportunity to keep your tax rates the same AND improve the schools. Supporting D113 doesn't mean I am against supporting D112. It's just that they have budget issues that are completely exclusive of what happens in D113. I've been a HP resident long enough to remember a city that was against a shopping mall, Highland Park Place - now it's Northbrook Court. I remember HPers vehemently against Port Clinton Square, Renaissance Place, the new Park District facility - just about any improvement to our city has been met with some close-minded opposition. When we were a young family and looking for a suburban home, we looked to the quality and size of schools. We looked for communities that supported its schools. By voting "Yes" our community is clearly and demonstratively advocating its support of the entire D113 community.
James Dean March 17, 2011 at 02:55 PM
WOW, most of the folks against the referendum state that not enough planning was done and there is not enough detail in the proposal and it includes wants and needs, but you can talk to a few people you know and determine this plan can be done for $20 million or 15% of the total. Can I have some of what you are smoking.....
David Greenberg March 17, 2011 at 05:57 PM
The job of the Board is to hire and manage a Superintendent who deals with the day-to-day operations and education of the community's children. The Superintendent makes recommendations to the Board which they either accept, reject, or send back for modification by the Superintendent. Consolidation can take many forms, and deserves further exploration to see what synergies can be achieved. I've been in HP a very long time - it's my understanding that the residents of HP weren't against a shopping mall, there were some requests of the developer at the time, the developer didn't agree and simply moved to Northbroook. I'm not debating the pros or cons of PCS or Renaissance Place - we were told that spending the money on them would solve all the budgetary issues for the City through sales tax revenues. The concerns at the time were that sales taxes are elastic and in bad times, we'd be looking for revenue - that's happened. People look at the whole package when deciding to move here. How much house can they get, what amenities are available, what's it cost? If it's too expensive, they go elsewhere. Other areas are in the Top 10 School rankings, you can get more house and less taxes - so people take a harder look. By voting yes, you're keeping or raising the tax bill, that's going to lower the desirability of our communities.
Harry Steindler March 18, 2011 at 02:49 AM
The District's plan includes input from all community members interested and was guided by expert professionals. I attended all but one community meeting as did many of you. We all had a chance to have our say - over and over again. The district couldn't have been more solicitous. The professionals and District went back to the drawing board numerous times from September -January. The plan approved and before us in this referendum meets the needs of our schools and communities. The plan will put our buildings in good shape to meet student and community demands for decades. The district is committed to putting together a group of advisors from the community expert in aspects of the project. The district has done its job correctly. Some of the main targets of attack by Ed Frist are the swimming pools and new PE facilities. From those of us, like myself, who have been active in the school communities for many years - these improvements are necessary to give our students the full experience they deserve. I'm tired of people who aren't involved in the shcools constantly deriding athletics and implying that athletics and PE are not equal components of a complete high school education. You are very mistaken to think so. This is the right plan, at the right time. Join me in building our community for our current residents and for generations of children to come. Vote Yes on April 5th! Visit www.dist113.org or www.carefor113schools.com for all of the facts.
David Greenberg March 18, 2011 at 04:19 AM
Thousands to repair, or $17 million to replace swimming pools. Why? Outside special interest groups pushing for construction of PE facilities. Why? The District has needs, but unfortunately they decided not to listen to the Public, and utilized results from biased surveys to try to convince us that we should spend $133 million ($201-$234 million with interest) on a top-heavy plan that is lacking in details. No one's deriding athletics, but we don't need new pools when the current one's can be repaired. We don't need a field house at either school, and we sure don't need to replace the indoor track at HPHS - so outside interests can make use of those facilities. This is most definitely the wrong plan, at the wrong economic time. We deserve a better plan, one that makes fiscal sense and serves the needs of the District, not the special interests.
Harry Steindler March 18, 2011 at 04:35 AM
Did I miss something David? - I know you have many credentials but I dont remember hearing anything about your involvement with youth or high school athletics. Perhaps you can clarify for me. Do you consider our community to be "outside interests"? Who makes up "special interests"? One other question - you were kidding when you suggested mirrors around the track to forestall collissions, correct?
David Greenberg March 18, 2011 at 05:07 AM
Except for my own personal experiences as a student many moons ago, I never claimed to be involved with youth or high school athletics, and unlike others, I'm not an immediate past commissioner of youth athletics. Outside Interests would be any entity that's not a PE class or District 113 team. If those entities don't have their own facilities, they generally contract with other's who do - such as Park Districts. As a general rule, outside interests using District facilities isn't a bad thing when there is excess capacity, and when those outside interests compensate the District for the costs incurred in such use. Where we start to run into problems are when we experience capacity issues, or when justification for building large facilities (that we then have to maintain) is that outside entities can use it. Special interests advocate or lobby on a particular issue or on a range of issues, such as athletics. I take safety seriously. If there are corners where collisions have been known to happen, then steps to prevent that from happening should be taken. Perhaps restricting crossing to specific areas where the view is better for runners and persons wishing to cross, or even using blind spot mirrors. I see such mirrors used at hospitals, parking garages, and in hallways all over the country, we'd have to locate them appropriately, but hypothetically speaking what would be wrong with doing that?
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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