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posted: 11/10/2016 6:39 PM

What's next for District 15 after borrowing plan fails

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  • Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson presents a tax increase proposal to residents in September.

      Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson presents a tax increase proposal to residents in September.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

An elaborate new look for Palatine Township Elementary District 15 moves into the Archive of Unrealized Plans after more than 70 percent of voters opposed borrowing $130 million for it.

In the proposal were building two new schools, instituting full-day kindergarten, redrawing school boundaries, tearing down Gray Sanborn Elementary School, repurposing Osage Park, reconfiguring bus routes and switching from junior highs to sixth-through-eighth middle schools.

There was something for everyone to like, or, as it turned out, many things for some to hate.

Superintendent Scott Thompson said he'll advise the school board to step back and regroup. There won't be a tax hike proposal on the spring ballot, he said.

That's a sound approach. The school board has work to do in sorting through the objections to the proposal, which would have raised taxes $122 a year on a $227,500 house, the median price.

But if District 15 is like many suburban school districts before it, a tax-hike referendum will be back again some day, some way.

If that happens, we urge as a starting point a less sweeping plan with a less startling price tag. Suburban voters weren't in a mood for school spending this election, also rejecting $29 million to build an Early Learning Center in Mount Prospect-based River Trails District 26. Given recent history, school boards have to answer how a tax increase would hit property owners if the tax base falls, as it did in the last recession.

District 15 might stand a better chance with a plan that lowers the price while avoiding at least some of the side effects that could have triggered opposition on a variety of fronts, from families' unwillingness to change kids' schools to loss of a park in the northern part of town.

Thompson and the school board announced the full proposal in August, leaving less than three months before Tuesday's election to collect and respond to residents' questions and concerns. Thompson led several presentations for the community, but parents wanted details: Where would the school boundaries be? Why wouldn't a new STEM school have athletics? Where would special education and gifted classes be held? Time was too tight to fully talk through the many consequences of the broad plan.

Finally, District 15 could do more to build trust and convince voters it's minding their money well. An unprecedented new 10-year teacher contract requires taxpayers to cover 2.5 percent annual raises for four years and 4 percent annual raises after that. Do voters have the confidence to back another big long-term obligation? That's the question to consider.

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