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Article updated: 4/7/2011 3:42 PM

Dist. 11: Economy, apathy foiled tax hike

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Even organized community support could not help pass an $8 million tax request for school improvements in Medinah Elementary District 11.

Now the school board and administration are considering what's next.

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Residents voted overwhelmingly Tuesday -- 841 to 342 -- to reject a request for the district to borrow $8 million to upgrade two schools and eliminate a third. Voters rejected the same measure in November, as well as a similar request in 2004.

This was the first campaign, however, in which parents and others organized support for the proposed tax increase. Volunteers launched a website called nowisthetime11.org, canvassed neighborhoods, held open houses, and printed signs and literature.

"I think parents didn't get out and vote, that's the bottom line," volunteer Lisa Hoffman said. "We had about 800 'yes' votes in November, so that means parents didn't bother."

Hoffman said volunteers expected a lower turnout, but thought efforts to educate residents on where the money would be spent would motivate supporters to head to the polls.

"Last time people didn't know what the money was for and some thought it would be used to pay teachers and administration, so we tried to get the truth out that this is for the buildings," she said.

Most of the $8 million would have funded construction of a wing at Medinah Intermediate School, which then would house the district's primary school. The existing Medinah Primary would be eliminated, with the building's rental or sale proceeds used to pay down debt.

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

Officials said district property taxes would increase by roughly $160 a year for the owner of a $350,000 home.

In this campaign the opposition was also more silent than last fall -- until election week. The group failed to relaunch its website voteno11.org, but circulated e-mails and signs this month urging voters to reject the measure. The DuPage Libertarians also published a brief item on their website telling residents to "vote no" and attacking district administration.

Superintendent Joe Bailey said he and the school board weren't completely surprised by the defeat, considering the poor economy. But the low turnout among supporters caught them off guard.

"I don't think the group completely expected it would pass and the timing was probably bad," Bailey said. "But I'm not sure the negative folks had much influence. I think due to the income tax increase especially, voters in general are saying they don't want one more red cent coming out of their pockets."

Ultimately, however, district officials feel the referendum request opened communication channels between the district and residents and generated more citizen involvement.

"Some good things came of it," Bailey said. "We've tried for eight years to get people to communicate and come to our events, and this time I've met so many people who have never come out before."

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