West Chicago-based Benjamin Elementary District 25 is proposing a construction plan of $6.9 million to update Benjamin Middle School and Evergreen Elementary. Borrowing the money -- to be repaid through property taxes -- would allow the district to make educational improvements, fix safety and security issues, upgrade infrastructure and improve energy efficiency in both buildings.
At Benjamin, science labs from the 1990s would be renovated, providing a modern design that would allow students and teachers to make the most of the district's one-to-one technology program. Evergreen would get mobile science labs that teachers would share. Also at Evergreen, the ceiling in the cafeteria would be lowered and technology connections added to allow the space to function as a meeting area for large groups -- both for students or the community. A new lift would make the second floor at Benjamin accessible to students, staff and parents using wheelchairs or crutches; the entry at Evergreen would be reconfigured to improve building security; technology infrastructure would be upgraded; and fluorescent light bulbs would be replaced with LED bulbs in both buildings to save on energy costs. The spending plan also would cover repairs to roofs and windows along with other maintenance items.
While maintenance, safety and updates are necessary, the district's plan for financing the work deserves closer examination. School districts typically ask voters to approve borrowing money to pay for such a construction plan; taxes go up during the life of the loan, then drop when the loan is paid off. Benjamin, however, already has the authority to borrow $2 million and is seeking voter approval to permanently increase its borrowing power to accommodate the remaining $4.9 million. The district then would gain the ability to borrow money in the future without going back to voters, provided the loan could be repaid under that borrowing authority. Residents who object to any future borrowing plan would be able to petition the district to put the question to a public vote. District officials intend this line-of-credit approach will keep homeowners' property taxes level while allowing officials to plan for and fund ongoing maintenance.
The request comes as the district is paying off old loans. As a result, the owner of a $250,000 house would see the tax bill decrease $221 in levy year 2018. If financing the new construction is approved, that homeowner instead would see a decrease of $72.
We agree the work should be done and appreciate that District 25 homeowners would see their taxes drop even while paying for the work. We hesitate a bit at the financing structure, but recommend voters approve the borrowing and then stay involved to keep an eye on future spending.