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Readers Argue Both Sides of District 113 Referendum

Patch readers and bloggers are discussing their opinions at length about the April vote to determine whether or not taxpayers will spend $89 million on Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools.

The District 113 School Board voted unanimously last month to put an $89 million referendum on the April ballot to pay for five years' worth of projects for Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools.

Though the vote is months away, already Patch readers and bloggers are discussing their opinions at length.

In a blog post entitled Michelle Holleman puts the referendum in a historical context, comparing this vote to a similar one decided in Highland Park a century ago.

"The investments made in 1914 were good ones, maintained for 100 years," she writes. "But the time has come to ask, can we do better for our kids? And the answer is a resounding yes."

Not everyone is so sure, however. Some feel that the school board should have been making these renovations on an annual basis.

"The real issue is the failure of the school board to put aside money for maintaining the two school on an annual basis," writes Daniel. "A responsible property owner does that. Now were hit with an enormous capital call. Still, there does not seem to be any plans for future to do just that, plan for the future."

Reader Ken Robertson disagreed with that perspective.

"Let's stop pretending that this project is due to 'lack of maintenance.' It's like making the argument that your 50-year old car should still run like new because you changed the oil!"

The plan is projected to cost $114 million. Of that total, $25 million will come from the district's reserve funds and the remaining $89 million will come from District 113 residents. If the referendum passes, District 113 residents who own homes valued at $300,000 will pay $173 in taxes to the district in levy year 2013, a $47 increase from levy year 2012. If the referendum fails, those same homeowners would only pay $15 in taxes to District 113 in 2014 because the District paid off a significant amount of its debt this year. The 10-year average price residents have paid to District 113 in taxes is $198 annually, according to District 113's financial advisor, Tammie Schallmo, with PMA Securities.

One user felt it was the district's responsibility to save for these pricier renovations rather than ask the taxpayers for help.

"I don't expect [District 113] to come to me and ask for a referendum to build up reserves for future projects," writes Walter White. "I expect them to build up these reserves as a matter of course! Manage your budget! Make do with the money you have!"

Other readers spoke more highly of the way the District has managed its schools.

"If not for the effective and sensible stewardship, the problems faced, and needs to be addressed would be far greater," writes Brad. "Our pools are vastly inadaquate and some of the mechanicals are 70+ years old. Its time to be invest in our community."

One commenter was Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther, who made made one of the presentations to the school board at the meeting where they approved to place the referendum on the ballot. He tried to assuage readers' concerns that the district would keep coming back for more money from taxpayers even if this project were voted for.

"I can't guarantee that the District won't come back with additional referenda. That, in large part, depends on the community's needs and desires," Hainsfurther writes. "However, it is our goal (and my belief) that the improvements will last the length of time we have set as a goal, as long as they are maintained properly (which I believe they will be) and infrastructure replaced at the end of its life cycle."

What do you think? Do you support or oppose the referendum? Leave a comment below or blog about it here.

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Enrique H. March 02, 2013 at 07:59 PM
"$89 million in bonds, which is why it is most prominent"--Disagree. It is most prominent because it is a lower number than $120,400,000. I read online print, look at posters in the community, and read actual print. 89 million dollars is featured most prominently because it is a smaller number. I never said that 25M reserves and 6.4M contractor adjustments weren't mentioned. "do you realize how much more your taxes will have to go up to "save up" for what the pool/gym replacement would cost in 10 years?" And *this* is a fiscally sound argument? The same "logic" can be used for any individual/organization to get *deeply* in debt b/c the cost of most "stuff" goes up with time. The argument boils down to: "Buy this now because it will cost more later." But most things cost more later, so buy most things? Not a sound argument to me. "And, FYI, D113 operating expense per pupil (OEPP) as calculated by the state, is lower than Lake Forest, New Trier, Glenbrook, and Evanston." Yes, true, and also true: a Big Mac has less calories than a Whopper. They're both loaded with fat, cheese, and grease, and all the districts you mentioned are well off compared to the state. Oh the poor destitution of Dist 113. C'mon man. This bloated Master Plan needs to be broken down into small chunks and funded by the money the district already has or will receive with future, non-increased, taxes.
Ken Robertson March 02, 2013 at 08:16 PM
Unfortunately, if your primary argument is that you don't trust your neighbors that are elected to the school board, who hired your neighbors in the administration, who have worked with over 100 of your neighbors over 18 months to put together this plan without considering what you are suggesting...well, then I'm sure I can't do anything to convince you.
MM March 02, 2013 at 09:32 PM
Enrique, if the District was a bloated spending machine, it wouldn’t be AAA rated and wouldn’t be paying off essentially all of its debt next year. DHS and HPHS exist the way they are because of large bond offerings paid off over time. Nearly every other school district in Lake County has bond offerings as well – and many of them are much nicer than DHS and HPHS. This tax hike is less than 1% of your tax bill to add facilities that will last another 50 years – get over it.
Enrique H. March 03, 2013 at 03:10 AM
"This tax hike is less than 1% of your tax bill to add facilities that will last another 50 years – get over it." Well, that's the funny thing. I don't have to get over it. And I'm not going to fall into the ridiculous trap of "well if some other school districts do it, then we should too--have to stay competitive, you know" which is always in any administration's toolbox of justification for any sets of improvements/salary negotiations/policy changes. Also, having a AAA rating has no bearing on whether the district is spending its money wisely! I am tired of the AAA fact being brought up--it was also brought up when we were sitting around listening to the "Aw, shucks the referendum failed" speech by the superintendent a few years ago. Mr. Robertson sums it up nicely, and I do appreciate the civility despite our differing stances : "well, then I'm sure I can't do anything to convince you." I don't trust my neighbors elected to the school board, nor the administration. Why should I? I have worked along side them in the past. I know their foibles, attitudes, and agendas. Hard work does not constitute a plan that will be accepted at-large by the community, and I will be the first in line to try to vote this new referendum down.
Twenty Year Resident March 22, 2013 at 08:33 PM
Administrative cost have risen above practicality. Infrastructure has deteriorated as a result of. Problem is greater than the referendum. Unfortunately, children tend to be leveraged from mismanaged adults.

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