D. 113 eyes $89-million appeal
Township High School District 113 Board President Harvey Cohen reads the statement of a board member who could not be present at the Jan. 7 meeting to discuss the referendum proposal.| Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 16, 2013 4:51PM
The School Board of Township High School District 113 is poised to approve an $89-million bond question for the April ballot to finance the most urgent facilities improvements detailed in the district’s new master plan.
While the total cost of the top-tier priorities is closer to $120 million, the school board plans to ask voters to approve a lesser amount. The district would chip in $25 million — or $5 million per year over five years — from the district’s capital improvements budget. Another $5 million has been knocked off the request because of cost savings that will be achieved as a result of the projects.
School officials are hopeful the scaled-back referendum will fare better with voters than the $133-million question that constituents nixed in the spring of 2011. The board is expected to vote Jan. 14 on the wording of the question to be put to voters April 9.
“The needs we have for our facilities are, frankly, beyond our community’s ability to pay,” said District 113 board member David Small, who voiced strong support for the recommendations of the steering committee. “Nobody is going to be happy. There has been compromise at every step of the way.”
The largest chunk of money would be spent on building infrastructure, such as updating the heating, ventilation and cooling systems; the electrical systems and technology wiring.
A Leadership Team made up of District 113 citizens with expertise in construction and finance ultimately concluded that new eight-lane swimming pools with diving wells at both high schools, at a combined cost of $19.6 million, would prove a wiser investment than spending $13.1 million to refurbish both pools and expand the Highland Park pool to eight lanes. Neither pool would have safe diving wells under that scenario and the Deerfield pool would remain too small to host competitions.
Other improvements that made it onto the short list include rebuilding the “C” buildings at Highland Park High School that date back to 1914 and currently house a gymnasium and art wing. Another 1914 building, known as the “B” building, would be renovated for different uses.
“If we let our schools continue to deteriorate, the value of our property will deteriorate, the value of our homes will deteriorate,” said Board President Harvey Cohen, who termed it a “crime” that students have to attend a school where the library floods and climate control is so erratic that students in one classroom are wearing sweaters and jackets while students in another room are perspiring.
While state law stipulates that school bond issues must be paid back within 20 years, the district’s financial consultant, Tammie Beckwith Schallmo of PMA Financial Network, told the school board Monday that school districts can ask the legislature to extend the repayment period by special request.
The school board is looking at the 25-year payback period, which would lower the annual payments to bondholders from $6.7 million to $5.9 million by spreading payments over more years. The estimates assume level payments each year.
The longer time horizon would increase the total cost of borrowing the $89 million from $127.5 million to $142 million, including interest.
The consultant estimated the owner of a $300,000 home would pay $155 the first year toward District 113’s total debt service if the new borrowing is financed over 25 years with legislative approval. The amount increases to $173 if the payments are made over the standard 20-year period.
Because that same homeowner would have paid $126 for debt service this year, the consultant put the additional cost at $29 or $47, depending on the repayment plan.
Board members have asked the consultant to provide tax-impact estimates for higher-priced homes, given the value of real estate in the communities that make up High School District 113.
The deadline for approving a referendum question is Jan. 22.
The school board has scheduled community meetings at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 23 and 10 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 24 to explain its final decision to constituents. Both meetings will take place at Deerfield High School.
A new citizens committee, CLEAR in 113, filed with the State Board of Elections on Jan. 2. for the purpose of supporting the 2013 referendum. State law prohibits school districts from spending public funds to market a referendum, though the district can provide voters with factual information.