The District 113 School Board voted unanimously in favor of adding a to the April 5 ballot.
The referendum, if approved by voters, will keep Deerfield and Highland Park taxpayer’s tax rate the same for the next 20 years and will finance roughly half of the original proposed by architectural firm Wight and Company via bond issue.
In order to be sensitive to taxpayers’ pocketbooks, the resolution also included an abatement that would return any excess funds allocated for the projects to Deerfield and Highland Park residents.
The new plan will be broken down into three components, each concentrating on different aspects of the high schools’ needs.
- Part one focuses on addressing problems with existing infrastructure — replacing windows and light bulbs, attending to problems with the roofing, masonry, mechanical, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in an energy-efficient way.
- Part two adds new field houses to both high schools featuring new pools, indoor tracks, spectator space and will result in a reorganization of existing locker room space. This component also will remove the school's original 1914 buildings. This includes the B classroom wing and the C art wing and gymnasiums.
- Part three concentrates on the physical classroom spaces at each high school, building infrastructure that will support changing technology and power demands in the future and making the facilities accessible for all students.
If approved by voters in April, the improvements are projected to begin around summer 2012. Deerfield High School’s improvements require one school year and two summers to be completed, while Highland Park High School will take two school years and three summers.
Joel Cahn of Highland Park urged the school board to think again of the taxpayers.
“It’s time to reduce taxes for citizens in our district,” he said. "We are in a recession, a recession is not a time to restabilize taxes, it is a time to reduce taxes. We need to focus how we can keep people in their homes, especially the older people who are on fixed incomes.”
Although other citizens echoed Cahn’s point of view, many were in favor of the board’s 7-0 vote for the referendum.
“I have heard every single comment that has been made in the last four months," said school board member Helen Herbstman. "From the bad economy, from our property taxes being too high, from our seniors on fixed incomes, from looking at needs and not wants from looking at inadequate sports facilities, needing more educational space, looking at our health and safety issues.
“I have heard it all and that is why I think that this process has been so critical in coming to a resolution.”
The pivotal moment for Herbstman wasn’t hearing all the opinions. Instead, it was the video component of last week’s presentation, during which she was surprised to learn that other high schools such as Lake Forest, Niles West, Stevenson and Glenbrook North are equipped with many of the amenities proposed for the Deerfield and Highland Park high schools.
Herbstman learned that the District 113 schools weren’t “leading the pack” but instead trying to catch up to the competition.
“I don’t think we can sit back any longer and say, ‘Next year, we don’t have the money, it’s not the right time.’ It is the right time,” Herbstman said.
“The question posed on the ballot in April 2011 is an essential opportunity for the District 113 community to ultimately determine their priorities,” school board President Bonnie Shlensky said. “I am confident that we can come and support our community because the high schools and our children need this support.”
-Previous article on Jan. 18-
In a unanimous vote Tuesday night the District 113 School Board approved the addition of a multi-million dollar referendum for Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools on the April 2011 ballot.
That renovation plan calls for a for both facilities, which will make improvements to the physical building infrastructure, classroom technology support and add a new athletic field house at each high school.
"The plan you have in front of you isn't just about bells and whistles," said Deerfield resident Janet Stern. "It is about providing safe and healthy learning environments for our kids."
The proposed plan is a hybrid of the original measure for the buildings that included more extensive interior alterations and creature comforts. That proposal came with a price tag, which was slashed at a previous school board meeting.
That's also when Barry Bolek, the assistant superintendent of finance for District 113, and Tammie Beckwith-Schallmo of PMA Securities broke down the cost to taxpayers for the new proposal.
“For a $300,000 house right now, the actual tax service is $254,” Bolek said.
Should the district adopt new debt but not raise the tax burden on taxpayers as recommended, the annual taxes paid on a $300,000 home for District 113 would remain at $254 for the next 20 years, maintaining the current rate.
“For full disclosure, if you do not go for referendum your tax bill would reduce,” she added.
The question of and wise investments has been bandied about since the first community engagement meeting in September. While residents of Deerfield and Highland Park were both for and against spending the money, many of Tuesday's attendees felt that the $133 million could potentially be money well spent.
"We all need to make this investment," said Randy Joseph of Deerfield.
The board echoed Joseph's sentiments with its 7-0 vote.
"If we vote 'no' tonight, what we are saying is the public has no say and will have no voice in the proposal for capital plans," said Harvey Cohen, District 113 school board member. "If we vote yes, what we are saying is each and every registered voter residing in the geographic area governed by District 113 has a right to go to their polling place and express their opinion."
Now the decision is up to local voters. The referendum will appear on the April 5 ballot. For more information about the plan and the proposal, check out the final presentation given by Wight and Company.
Click on the icon to the right to see video highlights from the meeting.