It has often been said that the key to successfully passing a school referendum is by mounting a good advertising campaign. If true, than North Shore School District 112 is off to a great start.
D112 brought together a cross section of stakeholders ranging from parents of current students to empty nesters to discuss the district’s aging school buildings Thursday morning at the Highland Park Country Club.
The roundtable discussions were strategically orchestrated
to solicit citizens' feedback on the future of elementary education in
Highland Park and Highwood.
A citizens advisory committee was tasked with taking a deeper look at the district’s sustainability issues in terms of facilities, finances and delivering a 21st century education to students.
The district must now decide if it wants to maintain the buildings in their current state or risk blowing through cash reserves and being placed on a financial watch list over the next five years.
Capital improvements coupled with the rising costs of benefits and staff salaries are outpacing the district’s overall annual operating budget of $70 million.
“It’s expensive to keep up these buildings,” Leslie Alter said, a presenter and member of the citizens advisory committee. “It creates problems in trying to deliver a 21st century education in buildings built for the industrial age. Our children need to be in a building the supports the information age.”
Alter said the district would need to spend $100 million on such basic repairs as windows, roofs, plumbing, wiring and security systems.
“Our buildings don't even have sprinklers, which I was personally freaked out about because of my kids,” Alter said. “The $100 million would not get sprinkler systems into the schools or systems that would ensure better indoor air quality, air conditioning, and ADA compliance, nor would it allow for those flexible or collaborative works spaces students need to achieve 21st century learning goals."
Participants were asked to consider and discuss three options at their respective round tables led by trained facilitators, including:
- Maintaining the status quo with no new investment;
- Renovating and maintaining the 12 existing buildings which wouldn’t sustain long term financial stability;
- Investing in a new model by constructing new buildings.
By kicking the can down the road, the district would continue to compromise class sizes and be forced to make deeper budget cuts by getting rid of art and music programs.
The citizens advisory committee also asked community stakeholders to consider constructing new buildings, which would be less costly to maintain over the long run.
Participants were asked to express their preferences in an electronic poll, including:
- No new investment
- Renovate and maintain all 12 buildings
- Renovate and maintain 8 buildings, including six K-5 schools and two 6-8 middle schools
- Renovate and maintain six schools, including four K-5 and two 6-8 middle schools
- Renovate and maintain eight schools or grade centers, including four K-2 schools; two 3-5 intermediate schools; and two 6-8 middle schools.
Elementary schools would accommodate 400-500 students; and middle schools 700-800 students. Students would transition together to new buildings.
Further, the new configurations offer cost savings of $3.5 million (eight buildings); $5.1 million (six buildings); and $3.7 million (eight buildings/grade centers).
With the exception of the first consideration – do nothing – residents can expect a school bond referendum sometime in the near future.
Homeowners can expect to see their property taxes increase by $500 to $650 annually on homes valued at $500,000.
At the end of the presentation, 131 participants favored the third option – renovate eight existing buildings, and closing four others.
Four more community presentations are scheduled through March 2, including a Spanish version.
Community input will be figured into D112 Superintendent Dr. David L. Behlow’s final recommendations, which will be presented to the board of education in the fall.
“We cannot come out here as administrators and say this is what we need to do,” the district’s chief financial officer Moshin Dada said. “We need to know what the community’s viewpoint is.”
For more information on "Your Voice, Our Future," visit the NSSD 112 website.