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Article posted: 1/4/2013 6:05 PM

District 116 plans to discuss referendum possibility

By Bob Susnjara

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 board members Monday night plan to discuss the possibility of seeking voter permission to borrow money that mostly would go toward high school expansion, officials said.

Bill Johnston, District 116's assistant superintendent of business and operations, said the school board must decide whether to pursue a referendum by Jan. 22, the deadline to place a measure on the April 9 ballot.

Johnston said Friday that even with mobile classrooms at Round Lake High School, there is not enough room for students. He said the most recent enrollment figures show 1,985 students at the 1,700-student capacity facility, which necessitates a system where not all of the pupils are in classes at the same time.

Tentatively, Johnston said, District 116 would seek voter permission to borrow up to $35 million to add 30 classrooms and make other improvements at Round Lake High. He said the amount sought could wind up in the range of $28 million to $30 million, depending on whether officials eliminate any proposals.

Johnston said the district intends to obtain the loan through a bond sale without seeking more in property taxes. District 116 would try to keep the tax rate even by restructuring debt, coupled with some expiring loan repayments -- similar to what some other school systems have done.

For example, Gurnee Elementary District 56 voters in 2010 approved a measure allowing $28.5 million to be borrowed mainly for a new school. It meant they passed on an opportunity for a tax rate cut in the bond-and-interest fund through assumption of the new loan. District 56 officials said payments would be made on the new loan after the old debt expires, keeping the tax rate steady.

Johnston said District 116 board members will devote all of Monday's meeting to discussing the possible referendum. "It's a major issue," he said.

Round Lake High's five-year enrollment projection is at 2,127 pupils, up from the current 1,985.

In March 2006, voters approved a tax increase that allowed District 116 to borrow $17 million mostly for renovation of John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake. Magee, which closed due to safety problems in 2004, reopened four years later.

Monday's District 116 session will begin at 7 p.m. at Round Lake High's library media center, 800 N. High School Drive.

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