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112 Citizens Face Less Schools or More Taxes

Next month’s meetings will give citizens a change to weigh in on alternatives for North Shore School District 112’s future.

Will Edgewood Middle School be one of the survivors if North Shore School District 112 decides to operate with fewer buildings. Photo courtesy of North Shore School District 112.
Will Edgewood Middle School be one of the survivors if North Shore School District 112 decides to operate with fewer buildings. Photo courtesy of North Shore School District 112.

Highland Park citizens may have to choose between less elementary and middle schools for children in North Shore School District 112 or higher taxes to maintain the existing buildings, according to a member of the Superintendent’s Citizen Finance and Facilities Advisory Committee.

“From my understanding consolidating schools will save money because it will optimize the number of students in each classroom and reduce staffing costs,” Walter “Trip” Hainsfurther, a committee member, said.

That is the essence of discussions which will take place when the committee presents its findings to the citizenry in a series of six meetings next month. The three broad subjects will be whether to operate the District’s buildings without seeking additional revenue, using the existing structures with a bond issue for improvements and sell bonds to renovate and maintain fewer buildings. There will also be an online survey.

Hainsfurther also believes maintaining the current model requires significant additional revenue. “I don’t see how we can maintain the status quo (keeping all existing schools open) without a significant tax levy increase,” he said.

At this point the District operates eight elementary schools for students in kindergarten through fifth grades and three middle schools for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. There are approximately 4,400 students in the schools.

Districts of 112’s size would normally operate with seven schools, according to Superintendent David Behlow. He will make a recommendation to the Board of Education after further extensive study but stresses the decision will come from the community.

“My recommendation will come from (the committee), input from community meetings and the survey that everyone can take,” Behlow said. His respect for the committee members and the community as a whole is very strong.

One of the problems with the existing model is some schools have as few as 13 students in a classroom while others have as many as 27, according to Hainsfurther. The remedy requires a change in the number of buildings and boundary lines.

“You have an inequity in class size that leads to ineffective staffing,” Hainsfurther said. “If you can optimize classroom size you can reduce your staffing needs.”

Expect for Oak Terrace Elementary School, the average age of the buildings is 74. Some have complained the problem is been growing for years. It is one Behlow began to tackle when he arrived five years ago. A master plan was adopted by the Board in 2010 and the committee’s recommendation is one of the final pieces.

Though Behlow will make a recommendation to the Board, he retires June 20. The execution will be left to his successor who may be named this month. “I anticipate we will have a lot of discussion of transition issues including this one,” he said.

The meetings are scheduled 9:30 a.m. Feb. 13, 9 p.m. Feb. 19, 9:30 a.m. Feb. 22, 9 p.m. Feb. 26 and 9 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Highland Park Country Club as well as 4 p.m. March 2 at Oak Terrace. The first five meetings will be conducted in English with Spanish translation available while the Oak Terrace gathering will be in Spanish only.

The District also explains things on its video which is part of this story.

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Walter White January 15, 2014 at 10:55 AM
How much will it take to renovate the surviving schools? What will be the operational savings for the closed schools? If the renovation cost exceeds the operational savings plus land sale proceeds, how will that difference be made up? Will the district do the renovations over time or ask the community for a lump sum? Those are the questions that need to be answered.
Highlands HP'er January 15, 2014 at 11:05 AM
Walter Tripp- im pretty sure 10 lots could sell for $100-150k each for between $1 million - $1.5 million. Yes, there are demo costs, but this is in the face of construction costs to bring the buildings up. 10 homes in HP could easily pay 10k a year in property taxes in today's dollars. The present value of an annuity of 100k a year using 3% (inflation) as a discount rate in perpetuity gives you a value around $3.3 million dollars. This deal would arguably be worth $4 - $5 million dollars to the community in today's dollars.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther January 15, 2014 at 12:57 PM
Highlands- You may be correct in your analysis. My feeling (and that's all it is) is that when people talk about selling these facilities they have a vision that they will provide tens of millions of dollars per site just by selling them, not the redevelopment. Walter: These are all questions that can and should be addressed during the process. I have a personal opinion, but would rather not voice it. Part of it depends on the number of schools operated and which schools are involved. Of course, the answer is that if the buildings cost more than the available funds, the District would ask the taxpayers for that funding in the form of a bond issue, which is a tax increase with a defined end date. The difference is that, as we have learned, if the District requires operating revenue, they would need a permanent tax increase to continue the current level of service.
AK January 15, 2014 at 01:06 PM
Tripp: " I have a personal opinion, but would not rather voice it". Why not? You are a licensed architect on the left side of the left enclave and u are well known for pushing public spending. Why not to voice your opinion.
Stu Pidasso January 15, 2014 at 01:22 PM
I see it now, sell off the property to the highest bidder/developer and build Condos!! That is my bet!!
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther January 15, 2014 at 01:24 PM
Because, AK, I believe the community needs to voice their opinions at the meetings. I am interested in hearing and learning from them. In terms of public spending, I don't push it indiscriminately. I look at the issue and determine what is needed to solve the problem. If there are other funding sources than tax dollars, then that's great. However, no one has provided alternative funding sources, they simply seem to want to kick the can down the road. Some of this would be great opportunities for Public/Private partnerships. Pay to build the school and we'll name it after you, AK.
Highlands HP'er January 15, 2014 at 01:50 PM
Walter tripp- I think selling a bond issue as temporary is a little disingenuous. Its like selling a person who needs 1 car 2 cars saying "hey, just finance it, you can have 2 and have them paid off in just 7 years". Well... the costs of maintaining 2 cars is higher so then you need to start borrowing money to keep up with maintenance, eventually the cars break down, and you need to buy a car again and you have no savings because you spent all your money paying finance charges for an extra car you didn't need as well as maintenance. We should focus less on the "ways we could pay for 12 schools" and more on "how we can provide a world class education at a cost tax payers can swallow". We are one of the most expensive counties in the country for property taxes.
p martinez January 15, 2014 at 01:59 PM
I think those evening meetings are actually from 7-9, not starting at 9.
Walter White January 15, 2014 at 02:07 PM
Tripp, why are you jumping to the conclusion that a bond issue would be necessary? Any operational savings would be annual. So for example, if the savings were 5 million per year and the shortage was 20 million, instead of asking for 20 million, do your renovations over a 4 year period.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther January 15, 2014 at 02:28 PM
A couple of things. A bond issue is a finance mechanism, just as you implied Highlands. It has an end date, admittedly a long way out these days. A tax rate increase for operations is permanent. It (usually) never goes away. I never have advocated not closing schools. But it is a community discussion that needs to take place. I can tell you that at the time of the last 112 Bond Issue, the community determined they would rather invest in every building rather than change configuration. That was not a proposition I felt comfortable with, personally. Walter, the way you propose s very reasonable, but you asked where the money comes from if the costs of renovating/adding to buildings (additions would be necessary if some schools were closed to support the existing student population) were higher than those available funds. That's when a bond issue could be necessary. I believe the message is that the District should look for every opportunity to avoid requesting additional taxpayer funds, while still solving their facilities issues. I believe that is a reasonable request.
Highlands HP'er January 15, 2014 at 02:35 PM
Walter trip: Yes, that does sound very reasonable. Walter white: Even if we decided to restructure and rebuild schools, I would be shocked if we didn't need a bond issue. First of all, budget accounting doesn't allow you to spend money in any fashion you see fit. Often, money is restricted for special purposes. Also, when restructuring, its common that you incur greater expenses during the period of restructuring before the savings are realized. Likely if we were to rebuild schools we may need to keep all the buildings open to allow children to be moved while work is done. I wouldn't be shocked if a project of this nature lasted over several years.
Walter White January 15, 2014 at 02:38 PM
Oh, I know there will be a bond issue. I'm not deluding myself about that. However, money can be transferred from operational accounts to capital accounts.
Highlands HP'er January 15, 2014 at 02:49 PM
Walter- Government/budgetary accounting doesn't allow you to simply do that. They can attempt to budget less for operational expenses, however, I think you vastly overestimate how much leeway they have here. They cant just decide to budget 40 million for teachers salaries/bene's if the contractual amount is 55 million. I'd venture a guess that less than 10% of the budget is not already contractually restricted.
Walter White January 15, 2014 at 02:52 PM
Actually it can be done and I've seen it done. Obviously it wouldn't be done in a situation where you couldn't cover your current operational expenses. You would have to have an excess in the operational account.
Walter White January 15, 2014 at 03:16 PM
"Less schools." LOL. I usually don't go after Sadin but that's pretty bad.
Highlands HP'er January 15, 2014 at 03:17 PM
I may be a bit rusty since I sat for the CPA exam... Where have you seen this done? My understanding was that spending money for a purpose other then its designation constituted a misappropriation of funds which could result in legal action. the board can certainly amend a budget assuming there are monies that are not restricted, however, the administration is legally obligated to follow the budget.
Walter White January 15, 2014 at 03:31 PM
District 109 did it recently for the air conditioning project. You can look at their meeting minutes. It's called an interfund transfer.
Highlands HP'er January 15, 2014 at 03:41 PM
This is essentially a change of the budget. It has to be approved by the school board. In some cases, it requires a public hearing.
Walter White January 15, 2014 at 03:46 PM
Correct. I never said it didn't have to be approved. And there was a public hearing.
Samantha Stolberg January 17, 2014 at 10:18 AM
Highlands - I always read the comments on 112 Patch articles. That's one way I get information from our stakeholders. While an online poll or survey isn't available yet, I strongly encourage you to go to one of the community meetings. The Board has not been involved in the Finance/Facilities committee discussions to date (in order to not influence it's members in any way), so I'm anxious to hear what the community has to say.
Stu Pidasso January 17, 2014 at 05:01 PM
Samantha, Thank you for chiming in!! You are a voice of reason, I do appreciate it.
Samantha Stolberg January 17, 2014 at 05:07 PM
Of course Stu! I can't always promise I'll tell you what you want to hear, but I can promise I'll listen and always be as fair as possible.
Walter White January 17, 2014 at 05:57 PM
So is it fair to say that you will strive to avoid a referendum if at all possible?
Samantha Stolberg January 17, 2014 at 06:29 PM
Absolutely - I'm a taxpayer too! However, if we indeed need a referendum, I am not in favor of one that just covers operating costs without tangible upgrades to our children's education experience. I am also not in favor of continuing to operate the same number of schools since pre-consolidation. If you have any questions that you don't want to appear on the Patch - just email me! sstolberg@nssd112.org
Walter White January 17, 2014 at 07:24 PM
I agree with you. Consolidate schools and pay for the upgrades to the remaining schools with the savings.
Walter White January 17, 2014 at 07:36 PM
Cue Tripp to tell me that won't be possible.
Stu Pidasso January 18, 2014 at 12:55 AM
Samantha, that is what I like about you! No elected official can appease 100% of the people 100% of the time. It's just not realistic. You are fair and REASONABLE. That's why I voted for you;)
Samantha Stolberg January 18, 2014 at 01:11 AM
Tripp Hainsfurther and the rest of the crew at the SCFFAC are working hard and have donated a lot of their time to the Community. I'm really anxious to hear what they've come up with so far.... And thanks for your support Stu... :)
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther January 20, 2014 at 11:43 AM
Walter, I can't tell you if that's possible yet, because there is no plan. We don't know if schools will consolidate or which ones would close if they did. We don't know how many children will attend a given school. We don't know what shape the existing buildings are in. We don't have community input on these items or things like: Should all school buildings have sprinklers? Should they be handicapped accessible? Should they have air conditioning? Should every building support every program the district offers? These are community discussions. I agree with Sam that we should look at all options to avoid or minimize the size of any referendum, What the community will accept in doing that is the discussion the District is looking to have. Beyond that, there is a team of professionals that need to be hired in order to bring some cost reality to the discussion. The District hasn't even begun that process.
Stu Pidasso January 20, 2014 at 01:41 PM
"Beyond that, there is a team of professionals that need to be hired in order to bring some cost reality to the discussion." Oh No , "team of professionals" we're doomed.......

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