A group opposed to Elk Grove Township District 59's plan to borrow up to $20 million says it has enough petition signatures to halt issuing the taxpayer-funded bonds.
Organizers submitted 4,309 signatures -- nearly 1,000 more than the required 10 percent of voters -- to the school district Friday, the deadline for starting the backdoor referendum. If successful, it would put the bond issue to a vote in the March 2018 election. However, the group must survive expected petition challenges before the Cook County clerk's office puts the measure on the ballot.
Elk Grove Village resident Bill Christian, who helped lead the grass-roots effort, said residents concerned about the state income tax hike, Cook County sweetened-beverage tax and potential tax increase for the bonds are sending a message to District 59.
"Some people compared this to being in a swimming pool, and they're on their tippy toes" Christian said. "They're just adding more water."
Administrators want the bonds to help pay for a $17.2 million administration building and commissary. More significantly, the extra revenue will stabilize the budget amid projected deficit spending of $100 million during the next five years.
While the district has a healthy reserve fund of $110 million -- enough to operate for an entire year -- budget projections show the savings account will be largely depleted in five years unless there are cuts. The deficit spending is largely due to the district adding dozens of employees in recent years tasked with improving early education and classroom instruction.
Though school board members passed a resolution starting the process to borrow up to $20 million, they reached a consensus to issue $15 million in bonds if the measure reaches a final vote in September.
For the average taxpayer with a $250,000 home, a $15 million bond issue would increase taxes about $15 annually until 2024.
Regardless of whether the bonds are issued, the district plans to start work on the new administration building at 1001 Leicester Road in Elk Grove Village. Otherwise, the district could lose more than $5 million if work is stopped due to costs to negotiate or litigate out of construction contracts and because design work has been completed.
The district is mulling ways to cut project costs. Those costs increased more than 25 percent to $17.2 million from about $12 million. Initially, the district planned to pay for the project with the $5 million sale of its current administration building in Arlington Heights and reserve funds, not bond money.
Plans for a commissary were added after the district's food service contractor, Sodexo, threatened to stop serving lunches in early 2016. The contractor estimated it lost $1 million over two years because District 59 did not have an on-site kitchen. The district has since hired a vendor that prepares meals without an on-site commissary.
Recently, the district debated removing plans for the commissary, which would cut construction costs by about $1.1 million. However, it would likely pay significantly more in annual food costs without a commissary, erasing any short-term savings.
The school board is expected to discuss plans for the bonds and commissary at a meeting 7 p.m. Monday at the administration building, 2123 Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights.