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updated: 1/7/2011 10:08 AM

Medinah Dist. 11 gives tax increase another try

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It might feel like déjà vu for voters in Medinah District 11 when they head to the polls April 5.

The school board on Thursday night approved plans for a referendum question asking residents permission to borrow about $8 million for upgrades to two buildings and to eliminate a third.

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The same measure was defeated by slightly more than 60 percent of voters in November. Voters also rejected a similar measure in 2004.

This time, however, an organized group of school parents and residents are publicly backing the request for the first time.

"The group actually came to our Dec. 2 board meeting and presented reasons they want this to go back on the ballot," Superintendent Joe Bailey said. "That's a first for Medinah. That's huge."

Most of the $8 million would fund construction of a wing at Medinah Intermediate School, which would then house the district's primary school. The existing Medinah Primary would be eliminated, although the district is unsure if the building would be rented or sold.

Remaining money would fund major security and traffic safety upgrades to Medinah Middle School.

Officials said district property taxes would increase by roughly $156 a year for the owner of a $350,000 home.

Lisa Hoffmann, one resident leading the group called "Now is the Time in Medinah School District 11," said their name says it all.

"We really feel strongly that this has got to pass this time," Hoffman said. "I've volunteered as a Girl Scout leader and classroom helper, and we've all seen firsthand the inadequacies the buildings have. We need to do this for the district to compete and for our kids to compete."

The group launched a website earlier this week, nowisthetime11.org, and Hoffman said members want to be proactive in explaining details about the projects to residents.

The grass-roots group and district officials said upgrades and consolidation of the primary and intermediate schools are a smart move because the Medinah Primary building is nearly 60 years old. Although the district has done diligent maintenance, Bailey said, some older features like original boilers, roofs and industrial-style classrooms simply need replacing.

If voters approve the tax increase, one administrative position and several office workers would be eliminated due to the merger.

Other funds would pay for security upgrades at Medinah Middle School. The school, built in the 1970s, has locks and cameras, but officials are concerned there is no mandatory checkpoint visitors must pass before they can reach students. Proposed changes would move the front doors out further and create a tunneling effect, also allowing the district to build a reception office to act as a catchall.

Officials also are concerned with the drop-off area in front of Medinah Middle. The lot in front of the building serves as the drop-off and pickup area for buses and parents, as well as the parking lot for teachers and staff. Bailey said the setup causes congestion and a safety hazard in a lot that is close to the basketball courts.

Changes would include constructing a new bus area in the back of the school and creating additional parking spaces for teachers, both away from where parents drop off or collect students.

Bailey said he hopes help from the grass-roots group, as well as more time to educate voters, will make the difference on April 5.

"The November election was an educational process," he said. "Now we want to try again while it's fresh in people's minds."

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