Four years ago, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 asked voters to approve a $17.6 million property tax increase to finance construction of a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center. Voters responded with a loud "no."
This spring, the district is back with a new, much larger request to borrow $132.5 million as part of a $154.5 million plan to fund projects at 19 schools -- including construction of a new Jefferson. Principal and interest payments on the debt would cost the district a total of $206.1 million. The owner of a $322,300 home, the average in the district, paid roughly $5,434 in property to the district on their 2016 bills. That same homeowner would pay $180 to $295 a year in additional taxes for the first nine years of the 19-year loan.
That's some serious money and will naturally give voters pause. Indeed, four of the eight candidates running for school board seats in April are on record as opposing the increase.
The district, though, argues that if it wins approval, it will devote $83.6 million to repair or replace roofs, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems and windows at 18 schools and construct a new Jefferson for its youngest students at a cost of $16.6 million. The district also would earmark about $2.5 million a year out of its operating funds for so-called renewal projects -- up from $1 million a year now.
If voters reject the increase, the district says it would likely set aside $6.5 million annually from its operating funds for infrastructure projects. But it says such a move eventually would force cutbacks in educational programs and services.
This is not a perfect plan. Whether the district is overreaching is open to reasonable debate. But this also is an opportunity for the district to catch up on needed repairs and improvements at its buildings -- work that's going to have to be done eventually. Although we have some reservations, we recommend a yes vote.