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updated: 7/2/2018 5:53 AM

To tax or not to tax? Dist. 205 will poll before deciding

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  • The results of a telephone poll will help Elmhurst Unit District 205 officials decide if they should seek a property tax increase for a list of construction projects, including a proposal to replacing the aging Lincoln Elementary School.

    The results of a telephone poll will help Elmhurst Unit District 205 officials decide if they should seek a property tax increase for a list of construction projects, including a proposal to replacing the aging Lincoln Elementary School.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

With a deadline approaching to put a referendum question on the November ballot, Elmhurst Unit District 205 officials will survey the community one more time before deciding whether to seek a property tax increase to pay for tens of millions of dollars in building improvements.

School board members on Thursday voted to spend up to $22,500 to have a company conduct a telephone poll in mid-July. The results will be available in time for an Aug. 14 meeting, which is the last opportunity for board members to consider a fall referendum question.

Superintendent David Moyer said the poll -- which will include questions about possible construction projects and a plan to implement all-day kindergarten -- will help board members make an informed decision.

"We seem to be getting in a place where they are more comfortable and understand these key issues to where there seems to be greater consensus around the important ideas," Moyer said.

To help prepare questions for the poll, to be conducted by Strategies 360, the board spent more than four hours reviewing issues related to the district's draft master facility plan and the referendum idea.

The board agreed to gauge community support for construction scenarios that would allow the district to make long-term improvements to buildings with a future-ready focus.

The most expensive scenario would cost $168.5 million and pay for comprehensive improvements to Lincoln, Field and Edison elementary schools.

It also would provide $18.3 million for maintenance and $44.8 million for building specific upgrades at 10 other schools. In addition, those schools would get $24.2 million in "future-ready" upgrades, including media centers and STEM spaces.

Topping the list of specific construction projects would be replacing Lincoln and Field schools. Board members said it makes more sense to build a new Field than to renovate the 87-year-old building.

The district would need voter approval to borrow money to do the work. The costliest scenario would mean an additional $149 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $500,000 home.

In addition to construction-related questions, the poll will ask about all-day kindergarten, an idea supported by residents who responded to a survey in fall 2017.

Board members said the district should "reconfirm" the community's sentiments. Elmhurst is one of the few districts in the area that doesn't offer all-day kindergarten.

If adopted, the break-even cost of all-day kindergarten would be $3,500 per student, according to preliminary estimates. It would have to be determined whether the district pays the cost, parents pay it or parents share the cost with the district.

To offer all-day kindergarten at its elementary schools and lower class sizes, the district would need to make boundary changes.

On Thursday, the board reviewed a possible boundary plan that would move 62 students from Hawthorne Elementary School to Edison and 64 students from Jackson Elementary School to Edison.

"It gives us the ability to move toward an all-day kindergarten scenario at neighborhood schools that doesn't require us to overbuild on landlocked sites that are really too small to handle extra capacity," Moyer said.

The plan -- called "Option D modified" -- wouldn't affect existing Hawthorne and Jackson students and their siblings. The district also is planning to grandfather in homes purchased before a yet-to-be determined date. In addition, there would be a "choice area," where 38 students could pick whether to stay at Hawthorne or attend Edison.

"We preserve walking neighborhoods, which was important to people," Moyer said. "Anybody that is potentially moved is being moved toward new construction."

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