District 73 seeks help from Vernon Hills on crowding

Vernon Hills village officials don't think new residential developments will be a big source of students but vowed to support Hawthorn District 73 as it considers its next steps to deal with crowded conditions in the schools.

What that means exactly for the Vernon Hills-based K-8 district is to be determined. School officials want the village to consider a one-time or continuing contribution, perhaps from a food and beverage tax, because revenues are not keeping pace with operating expenses related to the new students, they say.

It's another wrinkle in any ongoing give-and-take with village leaders questioning aspects of pending building plans and the school board defending its position.

The public salvos came at the past two village board meetings, the most recent Tuesday, as District 73 continues to fine-tune how much voters will be asked to contribute to renovate and expand its six school buildings.

Recent and projected enrollment growth is at the root of several issues. Voters in April 2017 rejected a $42 million request to fund the upgrades and the district is readying for another try.

School officials say developments coming online will add 160 students to an enrollment that has increased by 12 percent to about 4,400 since 2008. "The 160 (figure) is extremely high," said Trustee Thom Koch.

"The current amazing growth in the schools all happened before any of this (new residential developments) were approved. It's a generational turnover of Hawthorn Club and especially Deerpath," subdivisions, he added.

Originally, the district planned to use reserves to pay for a new 18-classroom kindergarten building.

Construction bids were $2.7 million over the estimated $12 million cost and whether or to what extent the district will contribute going forward is being decided.

"We are in a very different situation now since three ago when we proposed to put in $12 million of our reserves," Sonali Patil, school board president, told village officials.

The school board will continue discussion of the issue at its meeting, 7:30 p.m. Monday at the district office, 841 West End Court, Vernon Hills.

The potential about-face has ignited a sometimes testy give-and-take between village and school officials.

Former school board member Lisa Jay Tuesday chided Mayor Roger Byrne for questioning school officials at the June 12 meeting in an "accusatory, condescending, negative and badgering way."

"The intent was very obvious - throw the board and superintendent under the bus," she said.

Byrne later said his comment at the time "was frustration that came forward because we met for two years with the park district, with the school district, with us about this kindergarten project."

The 18-classroom facility is planned to be attached to the Vernon Hills Park District's Sullivan Community Center. Byrne noted the village assembled the land and has budgeted $500,000 for work associated with the new building.

"Everybody up here supports the schools," he said.

Tax dollars from business parks and developer donations have contributed immensely to the school district, he added. Village leaders also said the high values of the new homes would generate few children but significant property tax.

"Yes, it's very frustrating but hopefully we can move forward and we can resolve whatever the issues are," said longtime village Trustee Cindy Hebda, in her last board meeting before resigning and moving out of town.

As a symbolic show of unity, an item approving the continued use of temporary classrooms at Hawthorn Elementary South was separated from the omnibus agenda and unanimously approved by the village board.

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  Vernon Hills-based Hawthorn District 73 is fine-tuning proposed plans as it considers asking voters to fund renovation and expansion at six schools. Paul Valade/
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